People who coerce women into having an abortion would be penalized under a pair of bills that the Michigan House approved Thursday along party lines.
The legislation would prohibit stalking and make assaulting a pregnant woman with the intent to force an abortion against her wishes a felony. A person also couldn't threaten to cut off legally required financial support, such as financial aid or employment, if a woman decides to keep a child; doing so would be considered a misdemeanor.
Thursday was the last session before lawmakers' two-week in-district work period.
The Republican-controlled House approved both bills 65-43, and Democrats voted against the bills after a handful of amendments to also penalize coerced birth failed. They argued that if the intent is to protect women from reproductive violence, it should work in either direction.
Some Democrats also argued that the legislation is redundant because current laws protect women from stalking and assault, and civil rights laws also already protect pregnant women from employers, schools or universities that might threaten job loss or disenrollment.
"Let's be honest with each other: These bills aren't about protecting women," said Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon, who called the bills "meaningless legislation."
A 2012 state law requires abortion clinics to screen patients for coercion, but lawmakers' attempt at the time to criminalize coercive abortions was removed before Gov. Rick Snyder signed it.
Shelli Weisberg, the legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said there's no evidence to suggest that women are frequently coerced into having abortions.
"This is just a constant fight between the people who want to end abortion altogether, and people who want to end abortion by doing the logical thing, by helping women get birth control," she said.
Republican Rep. Amanda Price, of Holland, said she's been compiling testimonies for years that she claims detail stories of women being threatened or pressured into having abortions by parents, employers, colleges and pimps.
"I don't know about you, but I am long past my breaking point," Price said on the House floor, imploring lawmakers to vote for the legislation.
The bill now heads to the state Senate, which approved similar legislation in in 2012.