University of Michigan establishes task force for abortion access

9/2/21 University of Michigan's LSA hosts a 2021 Fall Welcome Back Picnic on the lawn of Angell Hall. (Scott C. Soderberg, Michigan Photography)

ANN ARBOR – The University of Michigan has created an abortion-care access task force to reduce the impact on women’s health should a statewide abortion ban go into effect in Michigan.

The task force was convened by U-M President Mary Sue Coleman and executive vice president for medical affairs Marschall S. Runge. It includes leaders from across Michigan Medicine, the Medical School, University Health Services, Human Resources and General Counsel. Faculty and students from several LSA departments also sit on the task force.

Earlier this month, a draft opinion was leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court which indicates the justices could overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that made abortion access a constitutional right. If the decision is overturned, a state of Michigan abortion ban dating back to 1931 could take effect.

The U-M task force is planning for several outcomes, since the state law is currently the subject of ongoing lawsuits, including those brought by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood of Michigan.

Read: Leaked SCOTUS opinion: A look at the future of abortion in Michigan if Roe is overturned

According to university officials, a ban on abortion access would impact its medical missions, which provide abortion care.

“Many of the patients we see are diagnosed with fetal anomalies or experience other complications that make ongoing pregnancy and giving birth dangerous, or they have serious underlying illnesses or other needs that make abortion care in an outpatient facility not possible,” David Miller, president of U-M Health said in a statement. “Our commitment is to be there for those who need the specialized care we can offer.”

Co-chair of the task force and chair of Michigan Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Dee Fenner, said an abortion ban in Michigan would disproportionately affect people of color, adolescents, people living in rural areas and patients without the means to access out-of-state abortions.

She said it would also impact U-M’s students.

“The impact will be felt in our classrooms as well, where pregnancy, undesired birth or complications of unsafe abortion may impact educational attainment,” Fenner said in a statement. “Existing racial disparities in health outcomes and in student educational outcomes will likely be exacerbated. Overturning Roe is a health, gender and racial equity issue. We need careful planning to mitigate its most serious potential effects.”

U-M President Coleman said she is also concerned about the campuswide affect an abortion ban would have.

“The specter of a complete ban on abortion care in Michigan is worrisome. I strongly support access to abortion care,” President Mary Sue Coleman said. “We have a female-dominated institution; we care about our own communities as well as those we serve through clinical care and education. I am deeply concerned about how prohibiting abortion would affect U-M’s medical teaching, our research, and our service to communities in need.”

Read: Michigan court blocks enforcement of state’s 1931 abortion ban if Roe is overturned

According to Michigan Medicine officials, many people seeking abortion care in and out of state see the health system as a last resort.

“We see patients whose underlying health conditions require hospital-level abortion care, care that other sites are not able to provide, and would be very difficult to access out of state,” task force co-chair and professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Lisa Harris, said in a statement. “We can also expect to see an increase in the birthrate in the state — some estimates are as high as a 17% increase — and it is not clear that we or others have capacity to manage a dramatic shift like this. All pregnant patients will feel this impact.”

The task force plans to connect patients and campus community members with resources for out-of-state abortions as well as provide guidance to clinical providers in the event of a ban.

“Right now, we have a lot more questions than answers,” Fenner said in a statement. “We recognize that abortion is a complex issue that may bring up complex feelings. Regardless of one’s personal feelings about abortion, as professionals providing reproductive health care, this is a time of great uncertainty for us and for our patients. But we are pulling together a large, diverse group of university leaders to make sure we are prepared for whatever may happen.”