Less than two years after Michigan voters enshrined reproductive rights in the state Constitution, Republican U.S. Rep. Lisa McClain has introduced federal legislation that would force doctors to provide in person to patients information on potential risks associated with abortion.
On Jan. 18, McClain introduced a bill in the House of Representatives called the Woman’s Right to Know Act with the aim of ensuring those seeking abortions are told of medical risks and about how far the fetus has developed.
Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn has filed the same legislation in the Senate.
The bill would require that doctors tell patients seeking an abortion, in person, about the possible dangers of the process, fetal development, and fetal responses to pain. The patient would then need to wait at least 24 hours before having the procedure.
Current Michigan law requires patients to receive counseling at least 24 hours before obtaining abortion care but does not require that it be in person, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
“Protecting life has always, and will always, be a top priority in our country, and the Woman’s Right To Know Act does just that,” McClain said in a press release. “This great bill ensures that women receive the critical information they need regarding their own health and their child’s health, and it cements a standard that’s already widely accepted across the nation.”
For patients living in remote areas of Michigan, the demand that patients have in-person counseling 24 hours prior to obtaining an abortion can mean long hours of driving and the possibility of a costly overnight hotel stay.
In January 2022, a woman named Hillary Brandenburg told the Michigan Advance that nine years previous, she had been living in Chatham, a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and had sought an abortion. The closest clinic to her in the state was 250 miles away in Traverse City. She said she hadn’t wanted to drive to Wisconsin, where there was a closer clinic, because the state had a 24-hour waiting period and in-person counseling requirements at the time, so she and her husband rented a car and drove nine hours round-trip to Traverse City.
“There were a lot of barriers coming from a rural area,” Brandenburg said.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, 28 states require a waiting period between when a patient is counseled by a doctor and when they have an abortion.
Anti-abortion activists continue to talk about what they call a “fetal heartbeat.” According to Medical News Today, the term “fetal heartbeat” is misleading and medically inaccurate. At five to six weeks of pregnancy, cardiac tissue begins to pulse and can be detected on ultrasound.
The bill requires the patient to be educated about a fetus’ reaction to “painful stimuli,” but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that a fetus does not feel pain until at least 24 to 25 weeks of pregnancy. According to the Pew Research Center, 93% of abortions in the U.S. happen when a patient is in the first trimester or within the first 13 weeks of pregnancy.
“I think the literature on pain thresholds and all that is so completely fraught that for a politician to be the one to decide what has to be talked about when it comes to informed consent … these are medical decisions that should be made between doctors and their patients and whomever their patient wants to involve in that process of decision-making,” Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency department doctor and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Health Care, told the Michigan Independent.
McClain has a long history of working to undermine abortion rights. “Life begins at conception, and I will always protect the sanctity of Life,” she says on her official House website.
In January 2023, she wrote that she was “proud to be recognized by the Susan B. Anthony List as an advocate of the pro-life movement with their highest rating of an A+.” The group, now called Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, works to end abortion in the United States.
Even if her latest bill passes in the House, it is unlikely to come up this year in the Democratic-led Senate.
“This is just another attempt by GOP extremists to spread disinformation about abortion and put more barriers between abortion care and the people who need it,” Ryan Stitzlein, vice president of political and government relations for Reproductive Freedom for All, said in an emailed statement. “What the American people want is clear: a federal protection for abortion that restores our rights and more access to life-saving care. This is what the GOP is giving us instead – and what they’ll enact into law if we don’t elect reproductive freedom champions up and down the ballot in November.”