Washtenaw County legislators back women's health bills aimed at improving access to care
Editor's note: This story was updated at 2:50 p.m. with a comment from the Michigan House Republicans.
Amy Biolchini | AnnArbor.com
The bills, most of which will be introduced this week by several House Democrats, aim to improve women's access to health care and educational materials.
They would require health facilities to offer emergency contraception to rape survivors and would require the Michigan Department of Community Health to develop and distribute information regarding emergency contraception.
State Rep. Gretchen Driskell, D-Saline; Rep. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor; Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor; Rep. David Rutledge, D-Ypsilanti; and State Sen. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, all spoke briefly Monday on their support for the package of legislation during a press conference at the Washtenaw Intermediate School District in Ann Arbor.
“This was a very important issue that came up around the state as we were doing listening tours,” Driskell said. “It’s a very important issue that not only affects you and I, but our moms and our sisters and our friends and neighbors.”
Calling them "common-sense" legislation, Irwin said the package is an attempt to strike a bi-partisan compromise with Republican lawmakers on women's health issues.
When Republican state legislators were promoting their women’s health legislation last term, Irwin said he heard many of them speak to their desire to reduce teen pregnancy rates and reduce abortion services.
“We’re trying to take that opportunity; we’re trying to call on them to step forward and join with us on some polices that will actually prevent unwanted pregnancies and improve women’s health across the state of Michigan,” Irwin said.
Ari Adler, spokesman for the Michigan House Republicans, said his office has not received communications on the women’s health bills.
Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, has said previously that he was interested in ideas from all sources on women’s health care, Adler said. If the bills better the health of women in Michigan, the GOP would be open to considering them, Adler said.
Part of the package also includes “duty to dispense” legislation, Irwin said, which would require hospitals and pharmacies in Michigan to grant a women the pharmaceuticals she needs, following all required protocols, without objections due to religious or conscious origins.
One of the bills — House Bill 4721 — is sponsored by Irwin and would require that age-appropriate, medically accurate and objective sexual education be taught in public schools.
Irwin said his bill promotes the use of both abstinence and informative education materials regarding sex so students can make healthy choices — with the hope that better education of preteens and teens will lead to better outcomes and less need for abortion clinics.
Though the bill does not outline a curriculum, it does promote age-appropriate material, Irwin said. Specific determinations about how subjects like homosexual relationships would be broached would be made further down the road, Irwin said.
Michigan's School Code allows for sex education in public schools, which it defines as encompassing family planning, human sexuality, and the emotional, physical, psychological, hygienic, economic and social aspects of family life.
Reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases also may be included in instruction, according to the code. The code states abstinence should be stressed as a positive lifestyle choice for unmarried young people, and as an effective method for preventing pregnancies outside of marriage and STDs.
Michigan law does not allow for clinical abortion to be included in sexuality education as a method of family planning.
The women's health bills are being promoted across Michigan by the House Democrats.
The package of bills comes in response to Republican-backed bills that passed in the last legislative session, including the law that added regulations to abortion providers that critics said restricted access for women.