Federal Court Strikes Michigan Abortion Ban for Third Time; Reproductive Rights Groups Hail the Decision

Affiliate: ACLU of Michigan
September 15, 2005 12:00 am

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DETROIT – The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America today hailed a decision by a federal court striking down the third Michigan ban on abortion enacted by the Michigan Legislature in the past decade. The groups learned of the decision late last night.

“”This ruling is adding to the long list across the country reaffirming that decisions about medical care should be between a woman and her doctor, not politicians,”” said Kary Moss, ACLU of Michigan Executive Director. “”Michigan legislators should think of the phrase, ‘three strikes you’re out,’ and move on to dealing with the problems of our state that truly need their attention.””

Federal District Judge Denise Page Hood held in the decision dated September 12th that the law in question, the Legal Birth Definition Act, “”creates a ban on actions at the heart of abortion procedures from the earliest stages of pregnancy, whether used to perform induced abortions or to treat pregnancy loss.””

The court also found that the act endangers women because it fails to contain language protecting the health of the pregnant woman, contains a life exception which is constitutionally inadequate and includes language which is unconstitutionally vague.

“”Passing bans like this in Michigan is part of a larger anti-choice agenda that extends beyond abortion to restricting family planning, access to contraception and women’s right to medical privacy,”” said Rev. Mark Pawlowski, CEO of Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan, a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan on March 1, 2005 on behalf of reproductive health facilities, obstetrician-gynecologists, and their patients.

The groups argued that the ban not only prevents physicians from performing virtually all abortions, but also denies patients the safest medical care, even in cases when the patient’s life or health is in danger. For example, a doctor would be unable to provide a woman with an abortion even if she suffers from diabetes or cardiac ailments and needs an abortion to protect her health.

The Michigan legislature passed the abortion ban last year despite two previous failed efforts. In June 1996, the legislature passed its first such bill. A year later, a federal judge declared that ban unconstitutional because it was vague and overbroad. Similarly in 2001, a federal judge struck down a second ban for failing to include an exception to protect women’s health.

“”This ruling should send a clear message to the Michigan legislature– stop attacking women’s health and stop flouting a woman’s fundamental constitutional right to choose abortion,”” said Simon Heller, a staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights and one of the attorneys in the case.

Major medical organizations, including the Michigan State Medical Society, oppose the ban because it endangers women’s health.

The plaintiffs in the case are Northland Family Planning Clinic, Inc., Summit Medical Center, Planned Parenthood Mid-Michigan Alliance, Planned Parenthood of South Central Michigan, and a group of individual physicians. The plaintiffs are represented by Heller of the Center for Reproductive Rights; David Nacht of David A. Nacht, P.C.; Talcott Camp, Brigitte Amiri, and Chakshu Patel of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project; Michael J. Steinberg and Moss of the ACLU of Michigan; and Roger Evans and Donna Lee of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

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