Michigan legislature funds pro-life centers, blocks funding for abortion clinics

A missed period, a small pink plus sign, and a terrified woman whose heart just sank.

Not all pregnancies are wanted. For some women, an abortion may seem to be the only option. Access to abortion in the United States, however, is heavily dependent on a woman’s zip code and ability to travel.

Since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in the United States in 1973, state government has been the primary battleground for restricting access to abortion. Most recently, state legislators in Ohio, emboldened by the 2016 election of Donald Trump, tried pushing a law that would have outlawed abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected. Ohio Gov. John Kasich vetoed the bill, which would have been some of the most restrictive pro-life legislation in the country, but signed another law preventing abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Michigan has generally not been at the center of the national spotlight on abortion legislation. Still, the state has its own rocky history in ensuring access to abortion by blocking funding to abortion providers, while providing funds with no regulatory oversight to crisis pregnancy centers. 

These centers operate on a pro-life platform and offer counseling to pregnant women generally aimed towards persuading women away from getting an abortion. According to data from NARAL Pro-Choice America, Michigan is one of 11 states that provides direct funding for crisis pregnancy centers. 

One route for funding these centers is through state funding of Real Alternatives, a nonprofit that administers pro-life services in Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

The program has received state funding from Michigan since 2014. Beginning next year, however, the organization will receive $400,000 sourced from money Michigan received through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families federal block grant. Jennifer Eisner, a spokesperson for Michigan Health and Human Services, said states can decide how TANF money is used, so long as its purpose falls within given welfare guidelines.

Michigan has also sought to fund crisis pregnancy centers through other legislative means, including a bill that passed in the state senate earlier this year that would have raised funds for pro-life organizations through the sale of certain license plates.

While there have been many efforts to fund anti-abortion organizations, Michigan legislators have consistently blocked funding for abortion providers in the annual state budget.

Earlier this year, state Rep. Thomas Hooker (R-Byron Township) introduced a bill to the House that would codify the law to block public funding for abortion clinics, ensuring future legislatures can not include these funds back into the budget.

Public funding for abortion in Michigan stopped in the 1980s, but until 2004 the state still provided millions of dollars in financial assistance to people looking for contraceptives, STI testing, cancer screening, and education about sexuality from organizations like Planned Parenthood.

“Those funds have gone to zero, yet the legislature continues to put in the language that Planned Parenthood, by way of being an abortion provider, gets zero of the zero funds,” said Amanda West, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

Michael Loepp, the communications representative for the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs, said there are currently 12 licensed outpatient facilities that meet state criteria for providing surgical abortions. These facilities, however, are not widely dispersed throughout the the state.

According to data from The New York Times, Michigan women are usually between 20-40 miles from the nearest abortion provider, with women residing in counties surrounding the Detroit area being between 5-20 miles away on average. Women in the upper peninsula and northern parts of the mitten have to travel much farther for abortion access, with the nearest provider at least 40 miles away.

While access to abortion providers in Michigan is limited, crisis pregnancy centers are numerous throughout the state, possibly because these centers face fewer restrictions.

According to Loepp, Michigan does not regulate or keep track of these centers. Data from NARAL Pro-Choice America, however, lists Michigan has having 95 crisis pregnancy centers in 2014.

Many crisis pregnancy centers offer ultrasounds in addition to information regarding pregnancy and abortion. The lack of state oversight means the information provided by these centers is not being regulated for accuracy.

Flint Crisis Pregnancy Services, a pro-life Christian center which aims to help women with unplanned pregnancies, gets most of the literature it provides from pro-life organizations. Part of the center’s mission is to promote pre-marital abstinence and alternatives to abortion. Since the center is a non-profit organization it does not receive funds from the state.

Kelly Nelson, an office assistant at the Flint center, said they make sure their patients know the center does not provide abortions. If a woman decides she wants an abortion the center will provide information on fetal development and will sometimes show a video of the abortion procedure.

“We do have several different videos on abortion so that they can either listen from a doctor the medical aspect of it or there’s a video we have of an actual abortion,” Nelson said. “It is very graphic and we give them a choice so if there’s a client who has never talked to anyone who’s had one. It goes from the beginning of the procedure all the way to the end so that they do understand what’s involved.”

ArborWoman, a non-profit crisis pregnancy center in Ann Arbor, does not refer patients to doctors or clinics that provide abortions, but Ashley Vadova, the center’s client services coordinator, said the center does counsel abortion as a viable option, along with parenting and adoption.

“A lot of what we do is crisis intervention,” she said. “So taking a moment to pause and just calm them down is often what we’re doing here.”

ArborWoman director Iris Proctor said they are in the process of changing center protocol on abortion and are currently evaluating nearby doctors for a referral list, though they do not know when such a list will be completed.

“All pregnancy medical centers value life but each operates very different,” Proctor said. “I haven’t found a center that operates the way we do.”

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