Lansing Update: Physician Shares Story of Woman Who Survived Abortion Complication in Testimony Against Abortion Deregulation Bills

‘She Didn’t Know’: Story of Woman Who Survived Abortion Complication Illustrates Necessity of State Health and Safety Standards

A physician’s story about saving a woman’s life who survived a complicated abortion provided state senators this week a real-life example of why health and safety standards around abortion practices are needed in this state.

Dr. Catherine Stark, a board-certified OB-GYN who has practiced in Michigan for more than 25 years, testified in opposition to bills tied to the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), which were up for consideration in the Senate Housing and Human Services Committee. The RHA would repeal numerous abortion clinic health and safety standards intended to protect the welfare of women who seek abortion.

Lawmakers took testimony only on the Senate RHA bills this week. House bills tied to the RHA are still stalled on the House floor, with the majority Democratic caucus down at least one vote — and most likely several more — from being able to pass the dangerous, anti-woman package.

Dr. Stark shared with Senate committee members this week about a time that she was on call for the emergency room of a local hospital when a woman who had been undergoing an abortion was rushed in by ambulance.

Dr. Catherine Stark, a board-certified OB-GYN who has practiced in Michigan for more than 25 years, is pictured in September 2023 when she gave testimony against the RHA in a House committee hearing. Photo courtesy Protect Life Michigan.

In calling for the repeal of baseline health and safety standards for abortion clinics, RHA proponents have derided as unnecessary state regulations that determine, for example, clinic hallway widths. But the purpose of those regulations is to ensure emergency personnel can enter a clinic with a stretcher in case of emergency.

That was exactly what was needed for this woman, whose second-trimester abortion had become “complicated” and required surgery at a hospital, Dr. Stark said. The RHA would also repeal requirements for abortion clinics to report abortion complications to the state, such as the complication this woman suffered.

“She was hemorrhaging. She was internally bleeding, and she was unstable,” Dr. Stark said, who added the person conducting the abortion had misjudged how far along the woman was in her pregnancy, and also did not have hospital privileges, which she said is common among abortion providers.

At the hospital, Dr. Stark said surgery on the woman found her uterus had been perforated by the instruments used to dismember the fetus as part of the abortion. Body parts of the dismembered fetus had fallen into the woman’s abdomen, which Dr. Stark said could have damaged the woman’s other organs.

“This woman, she’s 20 years old, she’s from out of state, she knows nobody here, and she’s undergoing this major operation with a dangerous injury to her uterus,” Dr. Stark said.

It took a team of surgeons to save the woman’s life. Dr. Stark said the woman was in shock and had no idea what happened — and that she did not know something like that could happen. It’s precisely that reason why the law requiring that a woman is provided information and informed consent about the procedure — which would be repealed under the RHA — is necessary.

“Why is that needed? Well, she didn’t know … she didn’t know that could happen. She could lose her fertility forever,” Dr. Stark said, who added that abortions further along in a pregnancy are riskier for women.

“Women need to know this,” she said.

Dr. Stark said women should know if their abortion provider is licensed, credentialed, and has the experience to handle complications. And women and the public at large should know when a clinic is not a safe or if a provider has repetitive violations of safe care. The RHA would repeal requirements that abortion clinics are licensed and inspected, most of which were not inspected prior to 2012 reforms.

Representatives of Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) and Right to Life of Michigan also testified in opposition to the Senate bills this week, sharing similar testimony that was provided to the House Health Policy Committee last month.

Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for MCC, testifies against the RHA package before the Senate Housing and Human Services Committee.

Among the issues highlighted in committee is that the RHA bills would repeal the requirement for information to be posted in clinics about how it is illegal to coerce a woman to have an abortion, and eliminating the requirement that physicians assess prior to an abortion whether a woman seeking an abortion may have been coerced to do so.

Research has shown than more than two-thirds of women have reported feeling coerced into abortion, and eliminating the screening and information posting requirements raises questions as to how women would know that being coerced into an abortion is illegal.

Grassroots advocates like you have also helped keep the pressure on lawmakers to oppose the bills by sending them nearly 3,400 messages to date. To continue to send messages and to share the Action Alert with your friends and family, click or tap here.

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Bills to Protect Vulnerable Adults Receive Unanimous House Support

All 110 members of the Michigan House this week voted for MCC-backed bills to protect vulnerable adults from abuse.

House Bill 4320, sponsored by Sharon MacDonell (D-Troy), prohibits a person from intentionally or knowingly coercing, compelling, or exploiting a vulnerable adult in a way that causes the vulnerable adult to provide sexually explicit visual material to that person or any other person.

The bill is joined with House Bill 4387, also sponsored by Rep. MacDonell, which makes changes to sentencing guidelines based on the felony created in House Bill 4320.

Both bills passed the House on unanimous 110-0 votes. The legislation now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

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Religious Entities Not Exempted from Contraception Coverage in Senate-Approved Bill

State legislation that fails to exempt religious employers from having to pay for contraception as part of their employee health plans — even though a religious exemption exists at the federal level — was approved in a party-line vote in the Senate this week.

The contested approval of House Bill 4623 by the Senate this week is intended to implement in state law provisions of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, the bill leaves out an exemption granted at the federal level that protects entities from “establishing, maintaining, providing, offering, or arranging for … coverage or payments for some or all contraceptive services” contrary to entities’ “sincerely held religious beliefs.”

MCC raised this concern in a memo sent to Senate committee members before they voted on the bill, but the legislation has not been amended to reflect the federal exemption for religious employers.

The bill is now headed to the Governor’s desk for her consideration.

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Immigrants to Michigan who are pregnant women and children could access to healthcare sooner under legislation that MCC offered support for this week in a House committee.

House Bill 4740, sponsored by Rep. Alabas Farhat (D-Dearborn), waives the five-year waiting period imposed on immigrant children and pregnant women who would otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

The bill requires the state to extend coverage to children up to 21 years of age and to pregnant women regardless of whether they have lived in the United States for less than five years, meaning that any child in Michigan can access Medicaid up to 21 years of age.

The five-year waiting policy is a federal policy that states are allowed to waive. Lawmakers already appropriated the $26.4 million to expand Medicaid access to an estimated 8,000 people eligible to apply for the waiver.

The House Insurance and Financial Services Committee advanced the legislation to the House floor.

MCC supports this policy to promote the dignity of immigrant women and their children in ensuring they can access the basic human right of healthcare.

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Juvenile Justice Reform Legislation Clears Senate

The full Senate this week approved several bills intended to improve the state’s juvenile justice system.

The bills are part of a package intended implement recommendations from a state-convened task force dedicated to improving the juvenile justice system. MCC is supporting these bills to promote restorative justice practices for juvenile offenders and their families.

The legislation that passed the Senate this week with MCC support included:

Senate Bill 418
Increase the state’s reimbursement to counties to provide community-based services for juvenile offenders and allow counties to use these funds to provide pre-arrest diversion services, which will help counties work toward rehabilitating youth and not just sending them to jail.
Senate Bill 425
Require the Appellate Defender Commission to create a system of appellate defense services for indigent youth.
Senate Bill 426
Allow the state to adjust the per diem rates for juvenile justice residential facilities to address issues such as bed shortages and staff retention.
Senate Bills 428–429
Eliminates fines and fees for juveniles not related to restitution and the Crime Victims Fund.
Senate Bills 435–436
Changes references in laws to reflect a proposed new Office of the Child Advocate.

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