New so-called partial birth abortion bill passes the House

UPDATED May 9, 2003 Another so-called "partial birth abortion" ban passed the House yesterday. The new bill is called the "legal birth definition act." This is at attempt to ban all abortions and will put doctors in jeopardy of facing criminal charges even in cases of completing a miscarriage.

HB 4603 will now go to the Senate and then to Governor Granholm for her to either sign or veto.

The bill is unconstitutional, lacking a provision that protects the life and HEALTH of a woman. An insufficient and meaningless "physical health" exception, crafted by Right to Life, is now part of the bill.

The amendment does nothing to eliminate the extreme danger this bill poses to Michigan’s women, and nothing to cure its glaring constitutional defects.

The government should not be in the business of legislating good medical practice and involving itself in decisions that must be made by a doctor in concert with the woman and her family.

Please let the Governor know that you cannot accept a pro-choice governor signing an anti-choice bill!


Governor Jennifer M. Granholm
P.O. Box 30013
Lansing, Michigan 48909

Our thanks to the 29 Representatives who voted against the bill: Accavitti, Elkins, Kolb, Tobocman, Adamini,Farrah, Law, Vagnozzi, Anderson, Gieleghem, Lipsey, Waters, Byrum, Gillard, Meisner, Whitmer, Clack, Hardman, Minore, Williams, Condino, Hopgood, Murphy, Woodward, Daniels, Jamnick, Phillips, Zelenko, Dennis Read the letter from Timothy Johnson, M.D. below.

Dr. Timothy Johnson's letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee:

April 25, 2003

Senator Alan Cropsey
Senate Judiciary Committee, Chair
P.O. Box 3036
Lansing, Michigan  48909-7536

Re: Senate Bill 395

Dear Senator Cropsey and Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee,

I am writing as a physician dedicated to women’s health to alert you to the extreme harm the Legislature would cause to women in Michigan if Senate Bill 395, the “Legal Birth Definition Act,” becomes law.

Seven years ago, Federal District Judge Gerald Rosen selected me to serve as the court’s expert in a case in which the court ultimately struck down a similar Michigan law; just three years ago, I was a plaintiff in a lawsuit in which the court struck down another Michigan law that in my opinion was nearly identical in effect to Senate Bill 395.  In each instance, the court acted to protect women from medical harm.

As Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Michigan, I provide comprehensive obstetrical and gynecological services, including prenatal care, labor and delivery, abortion, and treatment of miscarriage.  Based on my medical experience, I know that Senate Bill 395 would, like the previous two laws, put women in grave danger: it contains non-medical language that is too vague to be comprehensible to physicians; it would ban abortions throughout pregnancy and treatment of miscarriage; and it would deny women essential, even lifesaving care.

Senate Bill 395 redefines a fetus as a person, for legal purposes, once even the tiniest part of the fetus is outside the woman’s body as long as that part is still attached, and there is still, for example, a fetal heartbeat.  But this scenario is absolutely routine: it can occur any time a woman miscarries or in any abortion performed from the earliest stages of pregnancy.  For example, I often treat women who arrive at the hospital miscarrying, with part of the fetus already outside the woman’s body while there is still a fetal heartbeat.  This routinely occurs well before the fetus is developed enough to have any chance of survival.  At that point, I must complete the miscarriage swiftly to protect the woman from infection and to control bleeding.  Providing that care would inevitably result in the death of the non-viable fetus.

Under Senate Bill 395, providing that care would also put me at risk of prosecution.  In any abortion or miscarriage, once the fetus is in the designated position, the bill makes the physician liable for performing any procedure that results in injury or death of the fetus.  Thus, in the common miscarriage scenario just mentioned, the bill would leave me no way to treat my patient without facing prosecution for causing the death of a person as defined in the bill.

Such an extreme, broad ban blatantly disregards women’s health and lives.  Indeed, it provides no immunity for care necessary to protect a woman’s health.  The physician is immune only if the procedure was necessary to save the woman’s life and every reasonable effort was made to preserve the life of the fetus.  First, this means that rather than complete an abortion or miscarriage, the physician must do anything else that would keep the woman alive, no matter the consequences for her health or fertility.  Second, the bill forbids a physician from acting to save a woman’s life unless the physician also tries to preserve the life of a fetus with no chance of survival.  This is enigmatic, and it is cruel.

I am deeply concerned about the passage of Senate Bill 395.  I cannot protect the health of my patients under such restrictions on my exercise of medical judgment, and you should not expect me to.  I urge you to defeat this dangerous bill.


Timothy R.B. Johnson
Bates Professor of the Diseases of Women and Children
Research Scientist, Center for Human Growth and Development
Professor, Women’s Studies