Women’s health issues stir up national debate

Posted on April 4, 2012

The Detroit News, April 4, 2012 by Marisa Schultz

Planned Parenthood opened a new health center this week in Ferndale in the midst of what supporters are calling unprecedented local and national efforts to put limits on women’s access to health care.

With the presidential election as a backdrop,tensions inMichigan and acrossthe country are rising as lawmakersand activists push for policy changes for abortion, family planning and other issues.

In Michigan, about 30 bills have been introduced that Planned Parenthood believes are designed to chip away at women’s rights to abortions, contraception and preventive care. Sponsors say the legislation reflects public sentiment against abortions and protecting religious freedoms.

What’s different, they say, is that the bills now have a chance at passage with GOP gains since the 2010 elections. Two-thirds of Lansing lawmakers are solidly anti-abortion, according to Planned Parenthood.

“We do have a window of opportunity and we need to utilize it,” said state Rep. Thomas Hooker, R-Byron Township, who is pushing legislation to defund Planned Parenthood.

Already there have been some gains. Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law a late-term abortion ban last year.

There also is movement in Lansing to stop juvenile “judge shopping” to bypass parental consent for abortions and to make it a crime to coerce a woman into having an abortion.

Other bills would ban abortion coverage for private insurers on health care exchanges, require ultrasounds before abortions and allow employers to exclude insurance coverage for drugs and services they deem morally objectionable.

State Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon, is trying to fight back with a package of bills from the Democratic Women’s Caucus that aims to improve access to contraception, annual Pap smear exams and sex education in schools. But she acknowledges the political climate is stacked against her with GOP majorities.

“It used to be just about abortion and now the attacks are moving to preventive health care and basic birth control,” said Sarah Scranton, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

“That’s really shocking,” Scranton added.

Ed Rivet, legislative director of Right to Life of Michigan, said now is “absolutely” the best political climate he’s seen for the group’s agenda.

‘Pent-up demand’

After the eight years under Gov. Jennifer Granholm and her potential veto of legislation perceived as anti-abortion, he said: “There’s been a lot of pent-up demand.”

Anti-abortion advocates have “earned” the opportunity, he said, through hard-fought gains in legislative majorities and moving public sentiment.

“We didn’t wake up overnight in November 2010 and suddenly we were in Oz,” Rivet said. “We worked our way there.”

Right to Life, the Michigan Catholic Conference, GOP House leadership and anti-abortion lawmakers dispute the “war on women” characterization.

“It’s utter political fabrication,” Rivet said.

They point to President Barack Obama’s health care plan, under challenge in the U.S. Supreme Court, that would require religious organizations to offer contraception to its employees. After a backlash, Obama announced in February a compromise to allow such organizations with a moral objection to forgo paying for such coverage, but employees could obtain contraception coverage directly from their employers’ insurance companies.

Opponents maintain it’s not an issue of contraception but of religious freedom.

“We will be forced to have a policy that pays for products that violates the very reason we exist,” Rivet said, mentioning emergency contraception drugs he believes have an abortion-inducing effect. “We didn’t start this thing, we are just asking to be left alone.”

The compromise is a “shell game,” said Tom Hickson, vice president for public policy and advocacy at the Michigan Catholic Conference. “It’s still a violation of conscience.”

The issue of abortion and women’s health has been the source of heated rhetoric on the GOP presidential campaign trail with pledges by candidates to defund Planned Parenthood. Adding to the furor was Rush Limbaugh’s commentary about a Georgetown law student who favors contraception coverage, calling her a “slut” and a “prostitute.” The radio host has since apologized.

For his part, Obama released a two-minute video this week praising Planned Parenthood and decrying politicians who want to get rid of its funding. The Michigan bill that advocates of Planned Parenthood are most concerned about was written by Hooker. It would prohibit taxpayer funds from going to the group through grants or contracts.

At stake are hundreds of thousands of state dollars for pregnancy prevention and family planning through a community health program with a $1.5 million budget last year, according to Planned Parenthood.

No state or federal dollars can be used for abortion, but Planned Parenthood receives public funds for pregnancy prevention programs, education, HIV testing and health screenings.

“I’m solidly pro-life and I don’t want to see Planned Parenthood going forward,” Hooker said. “My ultimate goal is to stop our tax dollars going to Planned Parenthood.”

Other health clinics that don’t offer abortions can provide the same services as Planned Parenthood, he said.

Access at risk, group says

If successful, Hooker’s effort would cut off access to birth control and preventive care to men and women, Scranton said. Planned Parenthood sees more than 90,000 people in Michigan and for about 75 percent, “we are their only source of health care,” she added

In Ferndale, the new Planned Parenthood clinic will not offer abortions. It will offer contraception, annual exams, testing of sexually transmitted diseases, cancer screenings and other preventive services.

Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan now has 17 facilities in Michigan, with four clinics offering abortions, officials said.

Planned Parenthood of West and Northern Michigan operates an additional eight health centers outstate. Planned Parenthood said 97 percent of the services are preventive health care.

Posted in: Michigan