Women’s Access to Reproductive Health Care in Michigan no Longer at Risk After Law Suit is Settled

Michigan abortion providers have settled a lawsuit against the State to block a vague, new Michigan law that would have limited women's access to reproductive health care. Under the settlement, women will be able to obtain and pay for medical services such as ultrasounds and pregnancy tests without jeopardizing their ability to later obtain an abortion if they so choose. Abortion providers will be able to obtain prompt payment for medical services actually rendered to their patients. The district court approved the settlement on April 30th.

"This settlement achieves Plaintiffs' goals: to ensure their ability to continue to provide reproductive health care services to women and to enable them to be paid for services that they provide without jeopardizing their patients' ability to obtain the medical services that they desire," said Bebe Anderson, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel on the case. "The law's alleged focus on prohibiting prepayment for abortions remains intact. The settlement removes the law's vagueness, which made it impossible for providers to be sure that they were complying with the requirements and that their patients could lawfully obtain abortions," added Anderson.

The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged the law, which, in the guise of prohibiting providers from requiring prepayments for abortions, was worded such that reproductive health clinics would be prohibited from obtaining prompt payment for medical services already rendered to women. These services included pregnancy tests and ultrasounds - the very services some women need in order to decide whether to seek an abortion. In addition, contradictory provisions in the law could have prevented women from obtaining scheduled abortions even when providers complied with the law's payment prohibitions.

Plaintiffs and the State Defendants agreed on an interpretation of the law that continues to prohibit forced prepayments for abortions while allowing providers to obtain payment for services they have already provided to women. The payment provisions, as modified by the stipulated agreement, will go into effect on June 29, 2003.

The Center for Reproductive Rights filed the case on behalf of several Michigan reproductive health care providers located throughout the state. Before the settlement, physicians and clinics who provide abortions were left not knowing how to comply with the new law because the provisions imposed confusing and contradictory requirements, putting them at risk of fines and loss of license. Enforcement of the law was temporarily blocked while the case was being resolved.

Bebe J. Anderson of the Center for Reproductive Rights and local cooperating attorney David A. Nacht of Ann Arbor represent the plaintiffs in Northland Family Planning Clinic, Inc. v. Olszewski. Plaintiffs include Northland Family Planning Clinic, Inc.; Northland Family Planning Clinic, Inc. - West; Northland Family Planning Clinic, Inc. - East; Womancare of Southfield, P.C.; Womancare of Macomb, P.C.; Womancare of Flint, P.C.; Womancare of Lansing, P.C.; Womancare of Livonia, P.C.; Womancare of Downriver, P.C.; Summit Medical Center, Inc.; Scottsdale Women's Center; and Marshall D. Levine, M.D. The defendants are the Director of the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Chair of the Michigan Board of Medicine.