Lansing Watchdog: Saber-rattling in the Senate over Sodomy, Planned Parenthood

POST BY Shelli Weisberg Legislative Director

ACLU at the Michigan Capitol – February 8, 2016

This week as the legislature begins to move bills through the legislative process, below are three specific areas where our supporters can be impactful:

This Thursday, the Senate Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on two bills, SB 564 and 565, that seek to criminalize monetary reimbursement for the distribution or transfer of fetal tissue, embryo, fetus, and neonate that were obtained during an elective abortion. This is an attempt to address the false claims and rhetoric around Planned Parenthood and abortion providers selling fetal parts for profit – a favorite rallying cry from Right to Life and Catholic Conference as they spin tales to undermine public support for legal abortion. The ACLU of Michigan is with coordinating researchers at the MSU College of Human Medicine and University of Michigan School of Medicine to carry the message to the legislature that these bills are a red herring and would be dangerous for medical research as they could prohibit women from making the choice to donate fetal tissue for necessary and life-saving research. At the same time, ACLU supporters should be aware that these bills may have severe unintended consequences (as if the intended consequences weren’t bad enough). The bills could be read in a way that prohibits any compensation related to the disposal of fetal tissue after an abortion, even to the extent that a provider could not pay the company who handles medical waste disposal.  Please contact Merissa Kovach to find out how you can best help defeat this legislation.

Many of our supporters have expressed interest in helping the residents of Flint as a result of the water crisis. The ACLU of Michigan is joining a collaborative of key grassroots organizations to maximize the impact of our various advocacy and supportive efforts. These organizations include local activists, unions, area churches, community organizations, and statewide progressive groups, all working collectively to provide residents needed resources and advocacy. We will be developing a plan to provide the public with meaningful opportunities to engage so that those who are interested have some tangible ways to make an appreciable difference. Please contact ACLU field director Rodd Monts for more information.

We have received a number of calls regarding a bill that enhances penalties for animal abuse, SB 219. This bill is meant to ONLY deal with animal abuse but in doing so amends an act that includes a decades-old law criminalizing certain sexual behavior - what is commonly referred to as a criminal prohibition on sodomy. Laws like this, that make certain sex acts illegal whether the partners are same-sex or a different sex, were declared unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in the decision of Lawrence v Texas in 2003. As such, Michigan’s sodomy law is unenforceable. We think it is a best practice for the legislature to strike unconstitutional laws from the books once the courts deem them unconstitutional. The sponsor of the bill, State Senator Rick Jones, has not proposed to remove the offensive language and since SB 219 presents a perfect opportunity to conform to the decision in Lawrence, we will work within the process to make that happen. The statute makes it a felony for anyone to commit “the abominable and detestable crime against nature with mankind or with any animal.” We propose to delete the phrase “with mankind” and will work with committee members on the House Criminal Justice Committee to accomplish that. But to be clear, the Michigan’s sodomy law is unenforceable and unconstitutional.

We think it is a best practice for the legislature to strike unconstitutional laws from the books once the courts deem them unconstitutional.

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