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Mich. House panel approves abortion bill package (MLive)

Published June 7, 2012 by MLive.com

From AP

Published: 06.07.12| Updated: 06.13.12

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A package of measures aimed at restricting and regulating abortion practices cleared a key hurdle Thursday in a Michigan House committee and could get a floor vote as early as next week.

The Republican-led House panel dealt with the bills that contain many pieces of legislation that had been introduced or approved in the Legislature but had only been introduced in its current form last week. Proposals include requiring a doctor or assistant to do some screening before an abortion to ensure a pregnant woman isn't being coerced, banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy and enacting new regulations related to the disposal of fetal remains.

Supporters call the measures common-sense and overdue reforms while critics counter the proposals are confusing, contradictory and already covered by state laws that aren't being enforced.

The House could take up the legislation next week, and if passed it would move on to the Senate. Gov. Rick Snyder's spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said the governor's "top focus and priority" is on the state's continued economic recovery, but he will closely review and evaluate the proposals as they go through the legislative process.

Dr. Timothy Johnson, chairman of the obstetrics and gynecology department at the University of Michigan Health System, was one of two physicians to testify at the hearing. Johnson said he found numerous problems with the legislation, including that it would interfere with the doctor-patient relationship and lacks an exception for the health of the pregnant woman.

Johnson said he takes issue with the language that would make it a crime to force a woman to have an abortion, since he said a woman is more likely to be coerced into getting pregnant.

"My concern is we'll make Michigan a new center for the war on women," Johnson said.

Rebecca Mastee, a policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference, said the bills would help ensure abortion providers are accountable and held to higher standards. She said the legislation "seeks to protect women from unacceptable and harmful medical practices, facilities, and practitioners."

"With this legislation, women will be assured that the abortion facility they enter has been inspected and meets minimum state licensing standards, while also being assured that an abortion provider will be physically present, rather than impersonally communicating via the Internet during what is often a stressful time and for which a physical examination is necessary," she said, referring to another proposal that would prohibit doctors consulting by a web camera with patients undergoing a drug-induced abortion.

Also attending the hearing were many officials or supporters of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan, which operates two of the state's four licensed health care clinics that provide abortions in the state. The state has 32 abortion clinics overall.

Lori Lamerand, the group's president and chief executive, said after the hearing that the Planned Parenthood affiliate might have to close two of its non-licensed centers to comply with the regulations if they are signed into law because of the expenses associated with renovating them. One of its centers, which provides medication abortions, would have to build a surgical operating room to comply.

She expects that very few of Michigan's clinics can remain open if the measures are signed into law.

"This will, in essence, make abortion dramatically less accessible in the state of Michigan," she said.

Republican Rep. Bruce Rendon, sponsor of the one of the bills, said both sides can come up with unintended consequences from the legislation but he's convinced that changes are needed to deal with "decades of neglect."

"There are gaps in Michigan law that should be closed," he said.

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