By SAM INGLOT
Capital News Service
LANSING—Legislation that recently passed the Senate and is now in a House committee aims to prevent aborted fetuses from winding up in dumpsters.
Women’s health advocates say the bill is unneeded because medical facilities already must incinerate all human tissue.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would penalize abortion clinics and doctors who do not cremate fetal remains. Jones began working on the bill after 17 fetuses were discovered by an anti-abortion activist in a dumpster behind a Lansing area abortion clinic in April of last year.
News reports claimed that the attorney general’s investigation ended in October of that year and found that no health code had been violated by the clinic.
When asked to confirm the reports, John Sellek, communications director with the attorney general, had no comment, saying his office does not comment on investigations.
Jones is clear on where his legislation is aimed.
“I introduced these bills to stop the practice of an abortion clinic throwing dead babies into a garbage dumpster,” he said. “Even if you’re pro-abortion, this should bother you because it damages the image of Michigan.”
Jones said the practice conflicts with the state’s “Pure Michigan” image, which could harm the tourism and vacation industry, but is also a health concern because of the risk of disease.
The bill would require cremation of the fetuses at the expense of the clinic. Clinics that violate the law would be fined $1,000 per fetus.
Women’s health advocates are not buying his claim, saying there are adequate public health measures in place.
“My understanding of the attorney general report is that they found no wrongdoing on the part of the clinic,” said Renee Chelian, executive director of Northland Family Planning Centers in Metro Detroit. “They didn’t find anybody guilty of doing anything wrong.”
Chelian said the bill is redundant because clinics and hospitals dispose of pregnancy tissue in the same manner as all human tissue—by incineration.
“This is a Right to Life goal,” Chelian said. “It’s not a public health interest. If the state attorney general’s office found that clinic guilty last year, they would have taken legal action.”
Chelian said the 17 discovered fetuses could have been planted by anti-abortion activists. She said this occurs around the country and that clinics have put locks on their dumpsters due to frequent attempts to tamper with them.
“This is about [Jones] satisfying Michigan Right to Life to get re-elected,” Chelian said. “This is not a health and safety issue.”
Supporters dispute the allegation.
The idea that the fetuses were planted is a “complete fabrication,” said Ed Rivet, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, an anti-abortion resource and lobbying organization that helped Jones work out the language of the bill.
“Where would we get fetal body parts?” said Rivet. “We’re pro-life, we would never do such a thing.”
Rivet said the claim is just an excuse to “cover the fact that some– not all– some abortion clinics have very shoddy practices.”
The bill would not have passed the Senate so easily if the bill were solely an attempt to garner the anti-abortion vote in Michigan, Rivet said.
Regardless of the bill’s intention, the Michigan legislature should be focused on job creation and turning around Michigan’s struggling economy and not on divisive social issues, said Sarah Scranton, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.
“The politicians in Michigan who support this bill have the wrong priority,” she said. “Voters sent a strong message last election to focus on jobs and the economy and bringing Michigan back to being the great state that we know it can be.”
The bill package was recently approved by the Senate by a 33-5 vote and now waits for action with the House Committee on Health Policy but Jones said he expected “swift passage,” of the bill into law.
Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, was one of the five senators who voted against the bill.
“She felt it was an overly broad piece of legislation that was really going after a very isolated problem,” said Robert McCann, communications director for the Senate Democrats. “This is not an issue that comes up, it’s not like this is a regular occurrence.”
McCann said Whitmer believes the legislature needs to “tackle the real problems of middle class America, instead of spending time on issues like these that are clearly catered toward special interests.”
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SAM INGLOT