Michigan House won't take up ultrasound bill for abortions, speaker says (The Detroit News)

Published February 8, 2013, by The Detroit News.

By Gary Heinlein and Chad Livengood, Detroit News Lansing Bureau.

Published: 02.08.13| Updated: 02.08.13

Lansing — Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger headed off a potential public relations crisis over reproductive rights Thursday by vowing his Republican majority won't pass any bill forcing women to undergo invasive transvaginal probes before an abortion.

His promise was in response to charges from Democrats that a new GOP-sponsored bill called for the procedure, which ignited controversy in other states, too. In Virginia last year, Gov. Bob McDonnell withdrew his support of a proposed vaginal probe abortion requirement after it set off a national outcry; the legislation passed with an ultrasound mandate but minus the probe edict.

"While I want to be sure women have access to the best technology available, I have absolutely no interest in forcing a woman to have a transvaginal ultrasound," said Bolger, R-Marshall.

The speaker said he wants to tamp down quick-spreading reaction to a bill primarily sponsored by state Rep. Joel Johnson, R-Clare, that would require abortion centers to perform ultrasounds on patients. Ultrasounds are optional for abortions in Michigan, but a 5-year-old law requires that if one is performed, the patient must be offered the chance to look at the fetal image it produces.

Johnson's bill would mandate that clinics use the most sophisticated equipment available to produce the clearest possible image that would have to be made available to the patient. He said he wants to make sure women have complete information before deciding to undergo abortions.

But Robert McCann, press secretary to Democratic Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing, charged the bill calls for the use of transvaginal probes, since that's the technology that produces the clearest images.

Johnson and Ed Rivet, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, disputed that. Rivet said the bill simply requires an abortion center to use the best technology it has on hand. He reiterated that Thursday, saying Johnson's bill was being misrepresented in media accounts and statements by opponents.

"Right to Life of Michigan has not and would not endorse such a policy," Rivet said.

McCann said Thursday that Bolger and House Republicans appeared to be trying to duck the controversial issue.

"Once the bill got introduced, they saw what the backlash was, and it was well-deserved once again," McCann said. "They quickly did an about-face and are basically pretending the bill doesn't exist."

House Democratic Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills, praised Bolger's decision, his spokeswoman Katie Carey said in a statement, adding Bolger stood up "to the extremist right-wing members of his caucus and rejected this proposal to force women to undergo an invasive procedure that is unnecessary."

Bolger likely noticed the negative publicity Virginia lawmakers received for trying to require doctors to use vaginally intrusive devices on pregnant women, said Lori Lamerand, president of Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.

"I suspect the speaker didn't want any part," Lamerand said. "They all ought to be uncomfortable legislating medical care where they have no understanding or business doing so."

Johnson's bill is one of two abortion bills introduced so far in 2013. The other is a Senate bill that would prohibit Michigan health insurance companies from including "elective" abortions as part of standard coverage in group health insurance plans. Workers who wanted that would have to buy the coverage out of pocket as a rider.

Last year, lawmakers tacked the group coverage abortion ban to legislation revamping Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Snyder vetoed the measure, describing the abortion provision as an undue government intrusion on the marketplace that might be unconstitutional.

The insurance amendment was one in an array of 41 abortion measures that led to fireworks in the Legislature in 2012.

In June, Bolger and House GOP leaders received national criticism from women's groups for temporarily silencing two female Democratic representatives for a day after they uttered the words "vagina" and "vasectomy" on the House floor during an abortion bill debate.

The GOP's one-day muzzling of then-Rep. Lisa Brown of West Bloomfield, who referred to her vagina while speaking out against an abortion clinics regulation bill, set off a firestorm of controversy. The incident became known as "vagina-gate" in Lansing and across the country and attracted playwright Eve Ensler to Lansing to perform her "Vagina Monologues" on the Capitol's steps.

Snyder signed bills passed last year that make performing late-term abortions a two-year felony, require women to be screened for coercion before getting an abortion, define how aborted remains should be disposed of and set clinic equipment and space standards.

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