For 50 years, pregnant people have had the ability to make their own health care decisions as protected by the right to privacy provided by the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. This right has been under attack since its inception, but now we are at a breaking point. The constitutional protection provided by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case is at severe risk as the United States Supreme Court will be considering a case to make abortion illegal at 15 weeks gestation, contrary to the 50-year precedence of Roe v. Wade, amid a host of even more oppressive abortion regulations across the nation.
Should Roe v. Wade be overturned at the Supreme Court, a 1931 Michigan statute would make it illegal for a physician to perform an abortion in our state. The only exception is to preserve the life of the pregnant person. The statute is silent as to the standard for determining whether the person’s life is in danger. Michigan court decisions have held that this enormous decision is a subjective determination of the physician, meaning the standards could vary on a case by case basis, especially as previous case law did not directly address the health of the pregnant person. As such, we still do not know what would be required to determine that a pregnant person’s life is at risk; this issue is all too important to leave up to chance.
In 2011, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Only a few days later, I learned I was pregnant.
As I have watched draconian abortion laws be introduced across our country, I have reflected on my own story. The constitutional right to make reproductive health care decisions is a very personal issue for me. In 2011, I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. Only a few days later, I learned I was pregnant. My doctor at the time did not treat the pregnancy as a medical emergency, rather she outlined the statistics regarding my cancer diagnosis, and the decision was mine alone to make. As the drug I needed to treat my cancer was incompatible with pregnancy, and my cancer had a three-year survival rate without that drug, the decision was not a hard one to make. I had three living children that I wanted to see grow up.
Despite the fact that I had good health insurance, I was forced to seek help from outside my medical team as I was told my health care organization did not perform abortions. I turned to Planned Parenthood of Kalamazoo to proceed with the medication abortion. Unfortunately, this was not a smooth path for me due to complications of the pregnancy. I was so grateful to The Planned Parenthood physician, who stuck with me through the twists and turns, until the time when abortion was complete and I was able to proceed with my cancer treatment, even though I was not his established patient.
"My pregnancy shortly after a cancer diagnosis was not considered an emergency, yet my life was clearly in danger."
As stated above, my pregnancy shortly after a cancer diagnosis was not considered an emergency, yet my life was clearly in danger. Under the 1931 law, my physician could have been charged with a felony for helping to save my life. We often talk about how if Roe is overturned, millions of individuals will lose their right to make health care decisions. Let me be clear; if we lose that right, not only will many of us, myself included, lose our ability to make health care decisions, but abortion providers will be at risk of being thrown in jail. Imagine the impact of these physicians fearing jail time, all because they hope to save the lives of their patients. I fear the dystopian nightmare that faces our state should we fail to protect the legality of abortion now.
Each person has the right to make their own health care decisions about their own bodies. Aside from this philosophical and moral standpoint the fact is that restrictions on abortion place pregnant patients’ lives at risk. A study conducted by Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and others, as published in the American Journal of Public Health, compared the mortality rates among states with higher abortion restrictions versus those with lower restrictions. Vilda, D., Wallace, M., Daniel, C., Goldin Evans, M., Stoecker, C., and Theall, K., State Abortion Policies and Maternal Deaths in the US, 2015-2018, American Journal of Public Health. The data revealed a 7% maternal mortality increase overall in states with higher restrictions versus those with lower restrictions. More concerning is that states who placed restrictions on funding for state Medicaid for abortion had a 29% higher total mortality rate.
I was extremely lucky to have skilled and compassionate health care providers by my side during an extremely trying time in my life. Their commitment to my health and wellbeing is why I am alive and well today. I believe everyone deserves this same level of care, which is why I am standing firmly against the onslaught of restrictions on our reproductive rights, and why I stand firmly with abortion providers.
For 50 years, pregnant people along with their physicians have been able to decide what reproductive decisions are best for them. Now, as the specter of criminality hangs over the heads of our abortion providers, Michigan stands poised to cause real harm to every resident who may someday be pregnant and move our state backwards in maternal mortality. I will continue to fight to protect the right to abortion so that future generations continue to have bodily autonomy as they have for half a century.
State Representative Christine Morse 61st House District ChristineMorse@house.mi.gov
Phone: (517) 373-1774