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February 6, 2013 - 8:40pm

The Feminine Critique: Sen. Warren and House Bill 5711


As the former director of the Michigan chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), Senator Rebekah Warren understands the importance of women’s access to health care. Given the lame-duck passage of House Bill 5711 which increases red tape on abortion clinics and has been called “three pro-life bills in one,” the majority of our Michigan legislature, on the other hand, clearly does not. This Monday, Senator Warren visited the University’s American Civil Liberties Union meeting to elaborate on the ramifications of this legislation.

Cloaked under the guise of “helping women,” a “ten times” more extreme version of House Bill 5711 was proposed in June, which would’ve closed virtually all clinics in Michigan. Thankfully, Senator Warren and others pushed back with force. Despite a bipartisan endorsement of the expansion of telemedication, where doctors help patients over the phone, telemedication for abortion — especially useful considering that 87 percent of Michigan counties lack a provider — was banned by the bill last March. What if men’s access of Viagra was put under similar constraints, Warren asked? This type of discrepancy, she asserted, would be unacceptable had it addressed any sector other than women’s health. In addition to the telemedication ban, all clinics providing 120 or more abortions per month and advertise their services must meet the requirements of a free-standing surgical center, forcing unnecessary and expensive renovations which make abortion no safer (for example, hallways must offer a gurney, though gurneys aren’t often used in abortion care). Though the final version of the law does include waivers, meeting these requirements will cost some clinics between $1 and 1.5 million, with the potential to create a trickle-down effect, making abortion more expensive and less accessible for women.

Senator Warren suggested that anti-choice measures like these are based upon the false stereotype of who gets abortions, i.e. an irresponsible teenage girl who wants to fit into her prom dress. This notion of “abortion for convenience” or “abortion as birth control” was attacked by Senator Warren. She said she’s never met a woman who made this decision lightly. Further, contrary to this Reagan-esque myth, married women who already have children have expanded their acquisition of abortion more than any other group — women who completely understand the demands of motherhood.

Given that more state-level anti-choice legislation was passed in 2011 and 2012 than any other years, how do we move forward? How do we end our complacency spurred by the supposed safety net of Roe v. Wade and become proactive? According to Senator Warren, there are several measures we must take. One, we must talk about our values openly and define them ourselves. Whether at an ACLU meeting or a party on Friday night, we must publicize our cause unashamedly. Along those same lines, we must educate ourselves and others about the facts rather than the stereotypes that cloud this issue. Lastly, we must make connections — whether with other people, groups, or organizations — to spread our message effectively. I agree with Senator Warren, and with her leadership in Lansing, I firmly believe we can fight back to defend women’s health.

Emma can be reached at