Michigan anti-abortion-rights bill would force women to pass coercion test

October 28, 2011 | Last updated: July 31, 2020

A new anti-abortion-rights bill introduced in the Michigan House Thursday calls for criminalization of “coercion to abort.”

In its current draft, House Bill 5134 mandates a “physician or qualified person assisting the physician shall orally screen the patient for coercion to abort and domestic violence using the screening tools developed by the department.”

If a patient discloses coercion to abort, the physician must:

  • Inform the patient that coercing a woman to have an abortion is illegal and grounds for a civil action under which “she may receive financial compensation for her damages.”
  • Postpone the abortion for at least 24 hours after coercion has been disclosed.
  • If a patient under 18 discloses domestic violence or coercion to abort, the physician must report the situation to a local Child Protective Services office.
  • The facility providing abortions must conspicuously display information about violence against women.

This bill is part of broader legislation dubbed the “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act,” (CAPA)  which was introduced in June in the forms of HB 4798 and HB 4799. The act makes “coercion to abort” a crime punishable by potential imprisonment and fines up to $5,000, or $10,000 if the individual accused of coercing the pregnant woman is the “putative father of the unborn child” and 18 or older, or if the pregnant woman is under 18.

Under this law, “coercion to abort” includes threatening to discontinue financial support, threatening divorce, assault or threats of physical violence.

Right to Life Michigan has pushed for this legislation in the last three legislative sessions; it failed each time.

“These bills will give women the legal backing they need when being coerced to abort, and help prevent the tragedy of physical assault and murder of pregnant women,” said Right to Life Michigan in a brief on the legislation.

But reproductive rights and civil rights advocates in Michigan view the CAPA as deceptive.

Writes American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss in a statement:

Supporters of this legislation laud this effort as a step to protect women who are victims of domestic violence. In reality, this bill is part of a larger agenda to deny women access to the full range of reproductive health services that they really need. Let’s be clear: No one should be coerced into having an abortion or having a baby. However, if the Legislature really cared about protecting pregnant women, lawmakers would put more effort and money into ensuring that women have the resources they need to avoid unintended pregnancies and that those who are victims of abuse can get meaningful help.

Ms. Magazine published a blog post in August condemning the “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act” as a way of coercing women and minors to carry pregnancies to term against their will:

As far as HB 4799 is concerned, threatening to divorce your wife unless she gets an abortion has a $5,000 price tag. Threatening to divorce her if she gets an abortion, however, is perfectly acceptable. In fact, the state itself is perfectly willing to participate in coercion against abortion; one lawmaker behind this bill is ironically also trying to force Michigan women to view the most clear and accurate ultrasound images possible before obtaining an abortion.

And to take the hypocrisy even further, Michigan happens to be a state with strict parental notification laws for minors seeking abortion. So while it could soon become illegal for parents to attempt to pressure their daughters into having abortions, it is well within parents’ legal rights to force their daughters to continue an unwanted pregnancy.