Lawmakers look to criminalize coerced abortions

Posted at 5:50 PM, Sep 30, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-30 17:50:00-04

LANSING, Mich. — Controversial legislation currently up for debate would make it a crime in Michigan to coerce a pregnant woman into having an abortion.

This week, the bill was voted out of a House committee on a 5-3 party line vote. None of the three Democrats, who account for the only women on the committee, voted in favor of the bill.

The proposed law would make coercing someone into having an abortion a misdemeanor crime. If prosecuted, an individual could face fines up to $10,000 if the person is the child's father.

"We want to make sure the law is empowering women to tell whomever is pressuring them, could be parents, the father of the child, to say you can’t do this," said Ed Rivet, legislative director with the advocacy group Right to Life, which has been pushing for the law for more than a decade.

The language of the bill states coercion could come in the form of threats to stop support, assault, or even firing a pregnant woman in an attempt to coerce an abortion.

But Rivet said punishment isn't necessarily the point with the proposed legislation.

“We don’t really expect to put a lot of people in jail or fine a lot of people," he said. "It’s really about a deterrent effect.”

Opponents to the bill agree that coercion should not be happening but argue this law is about pandering to a particular political base and not about protecting women.

Any legislation should also include protections for women coerced into keeping a pregnancy, said Rep. Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw, who voted against the measure during this week's committee hearing.

“This is a larger conversation about domestic violence and protecting women," Guerra told FOX 17, "and if that was really our main goal, we would protect all women, not just those coerced into having an abortion."

“Not only was this bill offensive to me as a woman because it didn’t protect all women, it was offensive to me and frustrating that sitting on a committee with three other women -- and it was four men who were making that decision about my body.”

Beyond calling the legislation shameful, Democrats have also argued the law is too vague.

“When they’re deciding whether to continue a pregnancy or not, are they even allowed to have a frank conversation with their partner, or parent or friend?" asked Rep. Jon Hoadley, D-Kalamazoo. "Coercion can happen to anybody, so we should make sure the law protects everybody and we’re not doing that.”

There currently isn't a comprehensive database available showing how often abortions are coerced in the state of Michigan. But nationally, a recent study conducted by an anti-abortion research institution claimed more than 60 percent of women who had an abortion felt pressured into doing it.

The legislation will now move to the full House for consideration.