Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Recapping prolife legislative victories in 2016

The 2015-2016 legislative session in Lansing saw several important policy successes for the prolife cause. Other legislation made partial progress, hopefully setting the stage for action in the 2017-2018 session. Here's a recap of these victories.

State Family Planning Funds to Planned Parenthood Ended!
The annual state health department budgets adopted in 2015 and 2016 included language prohibiting state family planning funds from going to abortion-providing organizations, including Planned Parenthood (PP). This is only a first step, because PP is still able to receive federal family planning dollars through Medicaid. PP can provide non-abortion services to Medicaid-eligible patients and be reimbursed directly by Medicaid. Based on their own annual reports this frees up money in their budget to increase abortions while their non-abortion services actually decrease.

The impending battle over PP federal funding with the election of Donald Trump will be the golden opportunity to end PP’s access to millions of your taxpayer dollars here in Michigan. Meanwhile, we will continue to press for a law to make the state funding ban permanent rather than a year-to-year budget rider.

Coercing Abortion Now a State Crime!
When Michigan enacted the Prolife Omnibus law in 2012, it added provisions to screen women seeking abortions for signs of coercion. That screening was dependent on passage of a second law defining coercion as a crime. Unfortunately, the effort to pass the criminal bill was stymied for more than 3 years. The wait came to an end in June when House Bills 4787 and 4830 were signed by Gov. Snyder.

We are working with state regulators to implement the screening protocol and make sure that a sign is posted in every abortion clinic warning that coercion to abort is a crime. Sidewalk counselors and prolife pregnancy centers can now use this law to empower women being coerced into abortion to push back against this assault on them and their unborn babies.

Fetal Organ & Tissue Selling Banned in Michigan! 
In July of 2015 the country was shocked and sickened by undercover videos released by the Center for Medical Progress showing Planned Parenthood personnel haggling over the “fees” they would collect for harvesting organs from aborted babies. State Sen. Phil Pavlov sprang into action and after working through the process his legislation was approved during the lame duck session. The Fetal Organ Trafficking Ban will be signed into law this week.

The new law couldn’t be anymore simple or straightforward: no more money, perks or benefits of any kind (especially not a Lamborghini) can go to abortion providers for selling fetal tissue in Michigan!

Rape Survivor Child Custody Law & Domestic Violence Funding Secured 
We took up the cause of protecting the courageous women who give birth to children conceived by rape by giving them the ability to pre-empt the rapist from seeking custody and parenting rights. Michigan prolifers became familiar with this issue through the advocacy of Shauna Prewitt, a Chicago attorney who experienced such a nightmare.

In addition to getting states to pass laws similar to Michigan's, Shauna took the fight to Washington, D.C. and got Congress to pass a funding provision to encourage states to pass this law. HB 4481 (sponsored by State Rep. Lisa Lyons) was passed in April 2016. A second state bill had to be passed to qualify Michigan for hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding to help sexual assault victims and make them aware of their rights. We spearheaded the passage of SB 858 (sponsored by State Sen. Rick Jones) in only 9 days during May 2016.

The Michigan Domestic Violence Prevention & Treatment Board wrote a special letter of thanks to us: “Your advocacy was key in establishing our eligibility for an additional $236,452 in federal grant funding for the next 2 years…”

Other Important Legislative Actions
Bills to outlaw dismemberment abortions were introduced in Lansing for the first time in 2015. House Bills 4833-4834 (sponsored by State Rep. Laura Cox) were reported from the House Criminal Justice Committee to the House floor, but did not advance. Other laws addressing late-term abortions have already passed in a few other states, but in many cases have been challenged in court and suspended. It remains an open question as to whether Michigan and other states can help create momentum for a precedent-setting Supreme Court case by passing dismemberment bans.

A bill to create a Choose Life specialty fundraising plate (sponsored by State Sen. Patrick Colbeck) passed the Michigan Senate in 2015. It stalled, however, in the Michigan House as another bill affecting all fundraising license plates took center stage, HB 5447. That law was designed to put a hard cap on the number of allowed specialty plates. Initially that cap would have precluded a Choose Life plate from being passed for many years to come, perhaps never. RLM intervened before the bill was passed to adjust the cap so that a Choose Life plate can be approved in the future.

A set of bills regarding end-of-life decision making was introduced in May 2016 to implement a Michigan POST document (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment). RLM legislative staff have been guiding the development of legislation to be sure that it does not become a vehicle to promote passive euthanasia. The bills will be reintroduced in 2017, with more work to do on them before they can pass.

Court Cases Affecting Life Issues 
We went to court in 2014 to challenge the Obamacare HHS Mandate, which requires employers to purchase health insurance that must cover contraceptive drugs and devices, including those that may cause early abortions. Right to Life of Michigan, like many other plaintiffs, lost its case at the trial court level. With the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, the ongoing case with the Little Sisters of the Poor, and the prospect of significant portions of Obamacare being repealed and replaced, there remains a good chance of long-term success on this issue to respect the conscience rights of prolife citizens.

We got involved in a case—Simpson v. Pickens—regarding the loss of an unborn child due to medical malpractice. The doctor in the case happens to be one of Detroit’s more notorious abortionists, Dr. Alex Pickens, who maintains a separate OB/GYN practice from the abortion clinic. Pickens argued that because the baby was lost at 18 weeks (i.e. not “viable”), he was not liable under the Wrongful Death Act. We amended that act more than 15 years ago clarifying that a wrongful act that causes the death of an unborn child applies regardless of gestational age. The state trial court agreed with Pickens; the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned the flawed ruling and cited specifically the prolife laws we initiated; Pickens then appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court. RLM submitted an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to reject the appeal and uphold the Court of Appeals decision, which they did!

The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in People v. Ambrose that a man convicted of nearly taking the life of his pregnant girlfriend could receive an enhanced sentence based on Michigan’s “multiple victim” sentencing guidelines. Ambrose argued that his unborn child was not a “victim” under the sentencing law. The Court cited our Prenatal Protection Act, which it said makes very clear that the unborn child can be considered a separate victim of a crime in state law, even if the sentencing law does not have a formal definition of “victim."