Creative Destruction

August 8, 2006

Three Comments About Michigan’s “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act”

Filed under: Feminist Issues,Reproductive Rights — Ampersand @ 1:05 pm

Via Noli Irritare Leones, I learn of Michigan’s “Coercive Abortion Prevention Act.” What the CAPA would do is make it a crime to “commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit physical harm to the pregnant female” in order to force her to have an abortion; or to commit “repeated or continuing harassment of the pregnant female that would cause her to reasonably feel terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, or harassed” to compel her to seek an abortion. As well as providing criminal and misdemeanor penalties, CAPA also makes it possible for women to sue coercers in civil court.

Three comments on CAPA:

1) CAPA’s sponsors don’t oppose coercion when pro-lifers do it.

The law itself seems benign, at least on the surface. What makes it twisted, is that the Michigan pro-lifers who pushed CAPA through the legislature, actively worked to defeat an amendment to this law, which would have left CAPA intact but also have applied the same rules and penalties to people who coerce women not to have an abortion. In other words, pro-lifers explicitly opposed making it illegal to “commit, attempt to commit, or conspire to commit physical harm to the pregnant female” if the intent is to coerce her into giving birth.

(Pro-lifers might respond that there’s no need for such a law, since such things are already illegal. But if that’s their view, then how can they claim CAPA is needed at all?)

Of course, this is not surprising, since being pro-life by definition means being in favor of forcing pregnant women to give birth unwillingly.

Of course, I don’t believe anti-abortion Congressfolks in Michigan consciously favor violence against women seeking abortion. So why were they so dead set against outlawing coercion? Because they want to protect anti-abortion activists. In particular, I think they didn’t want to make it possible for women to sue so-called Crisis Pregnancy Centers for using fright and intimidation to compel women not to have abortions.

Pro-choice groups in more liberal states should propose “Coercion Prevention Acts” of their own — acts which would make it illegal for women to be “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, or harassed” to compel her to make any reproductive decision (not just about abortion or not-abortion, but also sterilization and not-sterilization). If the laws are passed, then good.

And when “pro-life” leaders oppose such laws – as I’m sure they would – then at least the foulness of their views would be forced a bit more into the open.

2) Where are the MRAs?

I’m surprised Men’s Rights Advocates aren’t screaming opposition to CAPA. Under CAPA, it can be “coercion” if someone living with the pregnant woman – say, the father of the fetus – says he’ll move out, if the pregnant woman bears a child. From the text of the law:

A person who has actual knowledge that a female individual is pregnant shall not do any of the following with the intent to compel a pregnant female to seek an abortion:

[…]

(b) file or attempt to file for a divorce from the pregnant female.

(c) withdraw or attempt to withdraw financial support from the pregnant female that had previously been supplied or offered to the pregnant female.

(d) change or attempt to change an existing housing or cohabitation arrangement with the pregnant female.

In the most extreme case – an 18 or older, unwilling father moving out (or just saying he will move out) from his “cohabitation arrangement with the pregnant female” if she’s 17 or under – a man could be thrown in jail for a year and fined $5000.

Being legally forced to continue cohabitation is much more intrusive than being forced to pay child support. Yet I haven’t seen “Choice For Men” advocates saying a word against this law. My guess is that they’re just not aware of it.

The above-quoted bit of the law goes too far. This section of the law tries to provide a legislative solution to the fact that some people are assholes, but assholishness isn’t a problem the Michigan legislature is capable of solving. Also, it’s unconstitutional as all get-out.

3) CAPA doesn’t address the most common reason women are forced to have unwanted abortions.

It’s terrible when any woman is coerced to have an abortion — or to give birth — by an abuser. But also terrible, and far more common, is when women feel forced to have abortions because of their economic circumstances. It’s ironic, therefore, that anti-abortion legislators, despite their supposed opposition to coerced abortion, nonetheless oppose any but the most grudging and measly programs to assist poor single mothers.

Even if we limit the scope of our cocern to abused pregnant women, CAPA fails to address the most pressing needs. To quote Michigan NOW:

The vast majority of battered women who feel “coerced” to consider or have an abortion are forced to consider this option not because of threats from the batterer but because child custody laws do not adequately protect battered women and their children or because current social policies do not allow battered women to feel they have the resources necessary to provide for their child such as employment, employment training, safe child care, and housing and health care.

(Hey, shouldn’t Michigan NOW be called “MOW?” That would be cool, because it would be the same upsidedown as it is right side up.)

5 Comments »

  1. Very nice summary of the issues. The best part is this:

    more liberal states should propose “Coercion Prevention Acts” of their own — acts which would make it illegal for women to be “terrorized, frightened, intimidated, threatened, or harassed” to compel her to make any reproductive decision (not just about abortion or not-abortion, but also sterilization and not-sterilization)

    As I’ve griped before, the use of quotes around “Coercion Prevention Acts” when it’s not being quoted distracts me and causes me to wonder if you’re being ironic.

    Also, the difference between coercion (the imposition of one’s will on another) and feeling forced (out of financial necessity) to abort aren’t really the same concept of “force.” Still, your observations do reveal (again, as it’s generally been pretty well established already) that quality of life after birth is of little or no apparent interest to pro-life advocates, which is a shame.

    Comment by Brutus — August 8, 2006 @ 2:40 pm | Reply

  2. Point 2…

    Give it some time. I’m sure generally intellectually consistent C4M-advocates will oppose it, such as Daran or Cathy Young.

    However, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Sometimes “Choice For Men” gives me the impression of simply being useful idiocy for the Pro-Life side, and sometimes intentionally so.

    Comment by Tuomas — August 8, 2006 @ 3:24 pm | Reply

  3. Tuomas, I’m sure you’re right.

    I didn’t mean to imply that MRAs wouldn’t object to this bill; instead, I think the bill’s implications have been kept in the dark by its sponsors.

    I’ve therefore edited the post to add the sentence “My guess is that they’re just not aware of it” to the section on MRAs.

    Brutas, you’re quite right, I shouldn’t have put quote marks in the passage you quoted. (The quotes around the earlier mentions were deliberate, and intended to indicate irony). I’ll try to do better in future.

    Comment by Ampersand — August 8, 2006 @ 3:40 pm | Reply

  4. I’m sure that the first prosecution under this law will be challenged on constitutional grounds and will be struck down as overbroad.

    Comment by hun — August 9, 2006 @ 3:20 am | Reply

  5. This was known by Michigan MRAs, but we were buried in much bigger battle at the time, like trying to get equal custody laws (HB 4564) passed, there are so many issues, that any one single issue gets lost in the clutter, reform needs to be broad reform, not focused single point reform at this point.

    Comment by Robert Kerr — December 10, 2008 @ 9:03 am | Reply


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