Oakland County judge rips pro-life witnesses, says both are not credible

In a win for supporters of access to abortion in Michigan, Oakland County judge Jacob James Cunningham granted a preliminary injunction to prevent a 1931 law from going into effect. During his ruling, he made it clear that witness testimony, presented from both sides, factored into the decision.

Judge Cunningham ruled that Michigan's ban on the procedure will remain blocked after the governor's legal team sued 13 prosecutors to stop them from enforcing a 1931-era ban against abortion

The temporary restraining order has been blocking the law from going into effect since early August. Under the ban, providing non-life-saving abortions is prosecuted as manslaughter.  

RELATED: Michigan abortion remains legal after Oakland County judge upholds injunction on 1931-era ban

"A person carrying a child has a right to bodily autonomy and integrity as well as a safe doctor-patient relationship as they have been able to do so for the past 50 years," Cunningham said Friday morning. "Weaponizing the criminal law against providers to force pregnancy on our state's women is simply contrary to the notion of due process, equal protection, and bodily autonomy in this court's eyes."

In the case, Governor Gretchen Whitmer is the plaintiff. The defense are opponents of abortion. The testimony from witnesses presented by the plaintiff and defense factored heavily into his decision. Here's what he said about expert witnesses brought by both sides.

Cunningham started with the plaintiff's witnesses: Dr. Lisa Harris, Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, and Dr. Diana Nordlund.

Under the 1931 law, abortions would still be allowed to preserve the life of the mother. Dr. Harris, OBGYN, is a professor and associate chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan, questioned what this benchmark would be. 

"Dr. Harris indicated the concern from her perspective in the medical field generally as (the law's) provisions. Regarding the uncertainty of 'What does it mean to preserve life of the pregnant woman?' Dr. Harris testified regarding having no benchmark to determine how a high risk need needs to be in order to for her to provide abortion services without being subject to potential criminal liability," Cunningham said.

Regarding Dr. Bagdasarian, the state's Chief Medical Executive at the Department of Health and Human Services, Cunningham said she spoke up about the public health issues that come with forcing women to carry baby's they can't afford.

"She testified as to the public health concerns, vulnerable population impact, and the concerns of the state and providing medical guidance as required by her job, given the uncertainty of how (the law), if applicable, would impact the medical community," Cunningham said. "She also testified regarding statistics of abortion in our state. Most notable to the court, abortions in Michigan are overwhelmingly safe for the person receiving the abortion care, statistically more safe than the pregnancy itself, and most abortion patients are already mothers, suggesting either dire medical reasons for seeking an abortion or due to the financial constraints of having more Children than one could care for. And that 90% of procedures occur within the 1st 12 weeks of pregnancy."

As for Dr. Nordlund, who is both an attorney and a doctor, Cunningham said her testimony was highly regarded because she has legal and medical knowledge. 

"Notable to the court was Dr Nordlund's testimony that the term miscarriage…is a medical term of art. She testified, in her opinion, (the 1931 law) creates a question as to what exactly is the medical standard of care in relation to ‘procuring a miscarriage’," he said. "For example, in her opinion, an ectopic pregnancy, which will not result in the birth of a child, from a medical standpoint, poses a great risk of death to the mother and requires treatment to end the pregnancy. The statute at question creates a medical-legal uncertainty on the standard of care and those unfortunate situations which subject medical professionals to chilling repercussions from civil suits, loss of medical licensing and, of course… felony prosecution - all while they're patient faces extreme health considerations, including death."

Cunningham noted that the defense to declined to cross-exam any of the witnesses called by Whitmer's team, which he said were all three credible in the court's eyes.

He could not say the same for the defense witnesses, Dr. Priscilla Coleman and Dr. Gianina Cazan-London.

Dr. Gianina Cazan-London (left) and Dr. Priscilla Coleman were both called by attorneys in support of the 1931 ban on abortions. An Oakland County Judge said neither one provided credible testimony.

Dr. Coleman - deemed an expert in psychology of abortion, decision-making and mental health outcomes - testified about her research and publications regarding mental health impact to women who have abortions. 

"On cross-examination, in the court's eyes, Dr. Coleman's credibility was seriously called into question and her statistics and conclusions of her testimony revealed unhelpful and biased information for the court's instant inquiry," Cunningham said. "Notable was Dr. Coleman's indication that although there were 'very few' psychological studies and instances of rape or incest, resulting in birth, she nevertheless concluded - stunningly - that only 20% of those mothers harbor resentment towards that child."

Cunningham said she alluded to bias and pro-choice interest groups and provided analysis of her own data. 

"Specifically, testimony established that 22 studies were aggregated in the metadata study. Of those 22, 11 were authored by the witness and only 14 data sets were used. Presumably, the testimony revealed 11 of them created by the witness herself," he said.

When the plaintiff got a chance to question her data, Cunningham said her research didn't hold up. 

"Dr Coleman's testimony is dismissed as not credible, in a practical sense, completely called into question during cross-examination, nor helpful in assisting the court in defeating the plaintiff's request for a preliminary injunction. The court affords testimony no weight," Cunningham said.

As for Dr. Kazan-London, Cunningham noted her care for pregnant persons, mainly for high-risk pregnancies and her one experience in assisting abortion procedure. She also testified about how she looks for abnormalities of the fetus in order to "assist the patients with a care plan." 

Similar to Dr. Coleman, Cunningham said Dr. Kazan-London's testimony wilted when questioned by Whitmer's attorneys.

"On cross-examination, Dr. Kazan London was significantly discredited in the court's mind regarding a personal bias in this area. The court also observed her demeanor significantly changed, including the tenor of her voice on cross-examination vs on direct examination," he said.

But it was her response to the question about how rape can lead to pregnancy that drew his ire. 

"Notable to the court was the inability for Dr. Kazan London to acknowledge, from the court's perspective, the impact of rape and subsequent pregnancy and a victim testifying that all births - even if the result of rape - are simply 'part of womanhood'.,"

Dr. Cunningham dismissed her testimony as not credible or helpful in assisting the court in weighing the decision.