Task force focused on abortion access continues planning

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Doctors, faculty, students and staff from the University of Michigan’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 last spring 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.

As Michigan voters prepare to vote in the Nov. 8 general election on a ballot measure that would amend 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, co-chair of the task force and chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“The bottom line is that that University of Michigan 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.”

A Michigan Court of Claims judge on Sept. 7 extended a freeze on the state’s 1931 abortion ban, ruling 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 providers 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, task force co-chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology. “Central to the task force work is that an equity lens is applied in all of our planning and partnerships.

“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 already are 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, 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, the clinical enterprise of Michigan Medicine.

“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 listserv to encourage recipients to vote for or against the ballot initiative.

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