U-M task force focused on abortion access continues planning for all scenarios as election nears

October 17, 2022  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership

Doctors, faculty, students and staff from U-M’s task force on abortion care access have been closely monitoring the multiple court rulings that have made abortion status in the state uncertain over recent months.

The task force formed in spring 2022 to understand and mitigate the impact of changes to reproductive health access on U-M clinical care, educational instruction and student health in a post-Roe v. Wade environment.

And as Michigan voters prepare to vote on a ballot measure in the Nov. 8 general election that proposes amending the Michigan constitution to protect abortion rights in the state, the task force continues to plan for all possible scenarios.

Leaders stress that based on current court rulings, Michigan Medicine providers can safely and legally provide abortion services.

“We realize that the recent legal challenges regarding abortion access over these last few months have been very disruptive and certainly confusing,” said Dee Fenner, M.D., co-chair of the task force and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Michigan Medicine.

“The bottom line is that U-M Health remains committed to providing high quality, safe reproductive care for all patients across all reproductive health needs, including abortion care. At Michigan Medicine, our faculty continue to provide abortion care services and our clinical learners continue to participate in abortion care.”

Following several court rulings over the summer, a Michigan Court of Claims judge on Sept. 7 extended a freeze on the state’s 1931 abortion ban, ruling that it violated the state constitution because it would “deprive pregnant women of their right to bodily integrity and autonomy and the equal protection of the law.”  

But with an appeal to that ruling likely and uncertainty about what voters will decide in November, the task force continues preparing for all possible outcomes. That includes how they would refer and support patients needing abortion care services if a ban eventually took place in the state as well as the opposite consequence: a surge in need for abortion care services from surrounding states if abortion remains legal in Michigan but is banned elsewhere.

“Our task force is preparing for the impact across all of our missions, including health care at Michigan Medicine, medical education and other areas,” said Lisa Harris, M.D., Ph.D., task force co-chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at U-M.

“Central to the task force work is that an equity lens is applied in all of our planning and partnerships,” she added. “This is essential because a ban on abortion will not affect all communities equally. In fact, all research suggests that a ban on abortion will exacerbate and worsen existing health care disparities.”

She noted that doctors are already seeing patients travel from other states, such as Texas and Ohio, for abortion care in Michigan. Currently, regardless of where patients come from or where employees live, Michigan Medicine teams may continue to provide abortion care services.

“The university will support and if necessary defend our faculty and staff who in the good faith performance of their job duties provide this important health care to our patients,” said Nancy May, D.N.P., R.N., Michigan Medicine’s chief nurse executive.

“It is crucial that we continue to put the needs of our patients first and do our jobs with confidence. We want our patients to feel safe and we want our employees to feel safe.”

Participating in advocacy efforts

Those wishing to engage in activities related to advocacy for or against the abortion ballot measure may do so as long as they follow guidelines regarding what’s permitted under the Michigan Campaign Finance Act, said Tony Denton, senior vice president and chief operating officer for U-M Health.

“Employees may engage fully in the political process, including campaign for or against ballot initiatives on their own time without using any university resources or imply they’re acting on behalf of the university,” he said.

Among permitted activities: donating money to support or oppose a ballot initiative, acting as a campaign volunteer by writing letters, making phone calls, knocking on doors, giving speeches or distributing flyers in support of or opposition to ballot proposals.

However, employees may not use university office space, copiers, telephones, computers or other equipment to campaign in favor of or against a ballot proposal or use an official university list serve to encourage recipients to vote for or against the ballot initiative.

For more guidance related to political advocacy work, see U-M’s Key Issues page.

For other resources and updates related to abortion access, visit michmed.org/abortion-care.

A timeline of major legal milestones impacting discussions and decisions about abortion care at Michigan Medicine. Please note: This is not a comprehensive list.

April 7

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood file separate lawsuits to prevent enforcement of the 1931 abortion ban in Michigan.

May 2

Media publishes a leaked draft of the Supreme Court majority decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that would explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade and a constitutional right to abortion.

May 17

Michigan’s Court of Claims grants a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Michigan’s 1931 felony abortion law in the event that the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

June 24:

SCOTUS overrules Roe v. Wade

Status: Technically, this means states are to begin following any abortion laws that are already on the books. However, Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban remains unenforceable because of the preliminary injunction granted in the Planned Parenthood lawsuit before the SCOTUS ruling.

Aug. 1

A ruling from the state Court of Appeals gives county prosecutors power to enforce the 1931 abortion ban, despite an injunction. The court rules that the injunction only applies to state officials but exempts county prosecutors.

Status: Uncertainty over whether abortion care providers could face criminal charges. Michigan Medicine prepares for possibility of pausing abortion services.

Later the same day … 

Oakland County Circuit Court grants temporary restraining order requested by Gov. Whitmer prohibiting enforcement of the 1931 law by county prosecutors in the 13 counties where abortion clinics are physically located.

Status: Abortion care services resume without interruption but Michigan Medicine still prepares for potential changes, closely monitoring legal proceedings.

Aug. 19

After hearing arguments from physicians, including U-M’s Lisa Harris and other witnesses, an Oakland County judge rules that prosecutors in counties where abortions are currently performed may not pursue criminal charges for abortion procedures during the pendency of the court case. This means they cannot enforce the state’s 90-year-old law.

Status: After consulting with legal teams, Michigan Medicine leaders determine that they do need to make any changes to current abortion care services but will continue to closely monitor and evaluate legal developments.

Sept. 7

The Michigan Court of Claims rules in a case brought by Planned Parenthood, concluding that the state’s 1931 abortion ban law is unconstitutional.

Status: The ruling extends the Aug. 19 freeze on the ban, preventing enforcement of the law in any county in the state. Providers can continue to provide services without risk of criminal charges.

Nov. 7

Michigan voters will have the opportunity to vote for The Reproductive Freedom for All ballot measure that would amend the Michigan Constitution to state there’s a “fundamental right to reproductive freedom,” which includes both abortion rights and contraception, prenatal care, postpartum care, miscarriage care, childbirth, infertility care and sterilization.

The ballot measure bars the state from punishing people for performing an abortion but does allow the procedure to be restricted after the fetus is viable (except when medically necessary), as was allowed under Roe v. Wade.