Michigan Senate OKs ban on abortion procedure; gov to veto

Michigan's Republican-led Senate voted Tuesday to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure, pushing ahead with legislation Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will veto.

The bills would prohibit physicians from performing a "dismemberment abortion," the non-medical term for dilation and evacuation used by anti-abortion advocates, except to save a woman's life. The procedure, in which the fetus is removed with a surgical instrument such as forceps, was used in 1,777, or 6.7%, of abortions in the state in 2017. It accounted for half of all second-trimester abortions, including 78% done after the 16th week of pregnancy. 

The GOP-controlled House planned to pass identical legislation Tuesday at a time Republicans across the U.S. are advancing tough anti-abortion bills they hope can pass muster with the Supreme Court. 

With Whitmer vowing to veto the measures when they are sent to her desk, Right to Life is preparing to launch a citizens' initiative that could be enacted by lawmakers without her signature. The group has successfully used the maneuver four times before to put anti-abortion bills into law. 

"This is a horrific, barbaric procedure. It literally rips arms and legs off of living babies. This is not OK. This is not OK for any civilized person," said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan. 

Whitmer said Tuesday she will veto the legislation.

"I think that these are decisions that should be made between a woman and her doctor," she said after speaking at an infrastructure event. "I've always supported a woman's autonomy and freedom to make her own choices, and that should be no surprise to anyone in this town."

Democratic senators criticized the bills during the floor debate, calling them a "sexist attack" and sharing stories of women who ended their pregnancy after learning the fetus would be born with severe, excruciating health problems.

"Not only is this legislation dangerous to the health and well-being of women, it also infringes upon the rights of patients and their families to make difficult, compassionate decisions to spare unbearable suffering," said Sen. Winnie Brinks, a Grand Rapids Democrat. 

The organization representing the state's doctors, the Michigan State Medical Society, also opposes the legislation. 

But one of the bill sponsors, Republican Sen. Tom Barrett of Charlotte, countered that legislators were "taking a stand for life" by restricting a procedure that should "shock the conscience" of the public.

Sen. Ed McBroom of Vulcan acknowledged the difficulties facing any woman whose fetus has medical issues but said: "It it's a life, how can we justify snuffing it out?"

Dilation and evacuation, or D&E, has been barred by 12 states. Bans are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia but are on hold in eight other states because of legal challenges. North Dakota's law, signed last month , only becomes effective if a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement. Indiana's ban, which also was enacted in April, is set to take effect in July but is being challenged in court.