Michigan’s house and senate recently both voted in favor of House Bill 5711, a piece of legislation that makes abortion less accessible. As of now, abortion-seekers and doctors can expect to be responsible for providing a cremation or burial for aborted fetuses. Not a lot of critical thought went into the passage of this Bill; Howard Walker, a senator who voted in favor of the bill, never actually read it. And when pressed for an explanation of his decision, he yelled “This isn’t about women! This is about protecting fetuses!” Because Mr. Walker is unwilling to extend to you the courtesy of reading the laws he votes for, I decided to look over the monstrous bill and summarize the most problematic changes that Michigan can expect.
The goal of this bill, fundamentally, is to shame people who are seeking abortions. There is no medical reason for a fetus to be cremated. And they know that. The bill does not seem to care at all what you do with any fetal remains as a result of a miscarriage. It explicitly only applies to fetal remains from an abortion. This is not about the proper way to treat fetal remains. This façade is intended to make abortion-seekers feel like they are murderers. Michigan’s legislators are seeking to cut down on abortions through shame and crippling regulations, rather than by making parenthood less financially crippling or by providing accessible birth control.
Let’s also take a look at how sexism plays into the writing of this bill. When discussing informed consent (for abortions), the Bill states: “Orally describe, in language designed to be understood by the patient, taking into account her age, level of maturity, and intellectual capability…” This kind of condescending language does not appear in other legal writings. For example, Michigan’s Public Health Code Act 368, Section 5133 is also about informed consent, only this time it’s HIV: an issue that is more gender balanced, even though the information mentioned in the HIV Act is much more complicated than what was found in HB 5711. Although both pieces of legislation are about medically informed consent, only the bill that applies (almost) exclusively to women is the one that has to caution doctors about making sure the patient is mentally capable of understanding basic English.
In that same vein, I noticed that an editor made the following correction several times: “whether the fetus showed evidence of life when separated, expelled, or removed from the
woman individual.” At first glance, I was glad to see that this change was made because it’s more inclusive of trans-men who are pregnant. But then I remembered that, as a rule of thumb, politicians (who aren’t Joe Biden) don’t give care at all about that sort of thing. This appears to be a move to change the focus of the bill from the people who need abortions to the medical act itself by using a less relatable noun to refer to the baby-carriers. It’s no surprise that Howard Walker can say, with a straight face, that this bill has nothing to do with women.
Now here’s where things get even more twisted.
This bill requires the parent(s) to arrange the “final disposition of a dead fetus, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy.” Even if your fetus is 5 weeks old and looks like a tenth-of-an-inch-long tadpole, you have to pay for either the burial or cremation of your invisible embryo. Why? I’m forced to assume that Michigan’s legislators are in cahoots with whatever funeral director is trying to break into the microscopic coffin market.
It appears that the writers of this bill tried to dodge this absurdity, but ultimately failed to do so. They carefully define “fetal remains” as being at least 10 weeks old. However, they don’t define the age of a “dead fetus.” They are even sure to say that the duration of the pregnancy is a nonissue. Because the word “fetal remains” aren’t used in the line stipulating that a dead fetus must be cremated or buried, this lends itself to the interpretation that this applies to all dead fetuses at all stages of development.
The final problem with this bill is the barriers it creates to prevent doctors from easily performing abortions. Facilities that provide more than 120 abortions a year must be listed as a “freestanding surgical outpatient facility” – a title that would require costly construction in order for the building to be up to standards. Abortions that are performed with the help of prescription drugs now require the doctor to conduct a physical examination in person. This is an issue for women in rural areas who don’t have easy access to a physician and who would otherwise be able to get a prescription over the phone. Also, the burden is placed on to the doctor and/or a funeral director to “obtain the proper authorization” to dispose of the fetal remains or risk a $1,000 fine. However, it is up to the state registrar to actually issue that authorization. So, if the state registrar shirks his or her duty in any way, the doctor/funeral director are charged for either not disposing of the fetus or disposing of the fetus without the proper paperwork filled out. All together, these restrictions and changes create a hostile environment for those wanting to receive abortions and those who wish to perform them. Many will not be able to withstand the pressure and will be forced to shut their doors or eliminate those services.
Once this bill is enforced, we can expect affordable access to abortion to fall sharply in Michigan. The anti-life movement is gaining an alarming amount of ground, even in blue states. This is something that should inspire fear and protest in women and pro-choice individuals in Michigan and across the US.
Written by Sara Wofford