Three Comments About Michigan's "Coercive Abortion Prevention Act"

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.)

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16 Responses to Three Comments About Michigan's "Coercive Abortion Prevention Act"

  1. Pingback: feminist blogs

  2. 2
    jfpbookworm says:

    Yet I haven’t seen “Choice For Men” advocates saying a word against this law.

    I don’t think this argument is any fairer when used against C4M advocates than it is when it’s used against feminists.

  3. 3
    Sarah says:

    That law is really rather offensive. A partner should not be forced into remaining in a relationship for any reason (no fault divorce ftw). This seems rather cruel and unusual.

  4. 4
    nik says:

    I can’t help but think the right response to this wasn’t to try and make it cut both ways and apply to coercing people to give birth. I totally support abortion, but if someone doesn’t want their partner to have an abortion I can’t see how I can object to them ending the relationship.

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Jfpbookworm, point well taken – although in my defense, I didn’t really intend that to be an argument against MRAs. I’ve added the sentence “My guess is that they’re just not aware of it,” following the sentence you quoted, which I think makes my intent clearer.

  6. 6
    Ampersand says:

    Nik, I’m not proposing that the bits about punishing people who want to leave a relationship be kept in. But I think the basic idea of outlawing unfair coercion has some value to it, and should be retained.

  7. 7
    Sarah says:

    Perhaps, however if the partner wishes to leave (and this would be a major issue in a relationship imo) why should they be punished? Its another iffy law to show, were they leaving because of the pregnancy or because of other reasons during the pregnancy?

  8. 8
    Gina says:

    I believe this law has merit. I do not, at the same time, believe that men (any partner – whatever the gender) should be forced to remain in a relationship or punished if they leave. It is important that the biological father remain financially responsible insomuch as he took part in the creation of the fetus.

    Coercion is a terrible thing – coming from a pro-life or pro-choice person alike. I have been told by more than one man during pregnancy scares in my past that if I had the baby the relationship would end. I will never have an abortion in spite of fear of losing the man I love and it will indeed be some coercive male’s loss if I do become pregnant and he demands it of me. (Please note: I am pro-choice but would never make the choice to abort personally).

  9. 9
    Sailorman says:

    Everything’s coercive to some degree. Do you tell someone you love them, or not? Do you smile when you see them? Do you remember to do them favors? Do you act nice?

    I don’t see that there’s a lot of good in redefining “coercion” away from the criminal, at least not if you put any value on free communication. Beating: bad. Threatening a beating: bad. And so on.

    Threatening to LEAVE, on the other hand, or not to love someone, or not to trust them… hell, these things happen all the time.

    Those statements are not directly related to pregnancy–though they may be triggered by one–and it makes no sense to have then suddenly become criminal just because the recipient happens to be pregnant.

  10. 10
    Q Grrl says:


    Do “C” and “D” specifically relate to male partners? I could see how both would protect underage women from being thrown out on the streets by their parents.

  11. 11
    Polymath says:

    While it is legitimate to discuss the merits and flaws of a law like this, let’s remember the main point that (I think) Amp is trying to make: Anti-choice lawmakers have proposed a law that would (if passed) likely result in fewer abortions. In addition, that law purports to protect pregnant women from coersion. Those who proposed this law, then, are clearly trying to reduce the number of abortions in ways that pro-choice advocates could live with or at least not easily oppose. Amp’s point (again, I think, please correct me if I’m wrong) is that this supposed concern for pregnant women stops dead in its tracks when those same women are seeking abortions.

    This proposal is therefore disingenuous at best and sneaky at worst; props to Amp for (as usual) dissecting the logic to make that clear.

    I also agree that the (c) and (d) provisions are probably unenforceable except maybe (as Q grrl points out) against parents of underage women.

  12. 12
    Sailorman says:

    I’m not generally a fan of the “if you don’t do everything then you should do nothing” concept. IOW, if this law benefits someone, then that’s great. Obviously I have some problems with a lot of the law, and obviously it WAS passed with a political goal in mind (don’t most, if not all laws, reflect the political goals of the majority?)

    Still, “disingenious” isn’t much of a response to the good law / bad law issue, and neither is the “this law doesn’t protect my pet group” argument.

  13. 13
    SC says:

    I hope this comment is feminist enough (I’m posting under a different username than usual to protect some people’s privacy).

    As the partner of someone who was coerced into an abortion by a threat to withdraw support (by a boyfriend who was, to put it nicely, a manipulative, abusive jerk), I think this is a a good law. As Amp points out, there are things that seem ridiculous and are probably unenforceable, and some things that could have been included weren’t–but still, it seems to me that this law has a sensible purpose.

  14. 14
    mousehounde says:

    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.

    My first thought on seeing this was how dangerous it might be for the women involved.

    If a man is abusive enough to threaten a woman to have an abortion, how much more abusive will he be when he doesn’t have an option to walk away? If he thinks a woman might be able to force him to stay?

    How many abusive men, when faced with a prison term or a fine for abandoning a pregnant wife or girlfriend would stay and make their lives miserable? Or hurt them or kill them? A dead woman can’t press charges.

  15. 15
    average_joe says:

    Remember that this law makes the following statements illegal:

    “Girlfriend, I can’t stand the smell your morning sickness makes in the bathroom in the morning. You’re gonna have to find another woman to share the rent with.”

    “No, I won’t remain your husband while you’re carrying *his* child. I’m getting a divorce.”

    “Honey, you know your father and I love you, but we think that thirteen is too young to be a mother.”

    Also note that the fines the bill imposes do not go to support the pregnant woman. Nor are there affirmative defenses – of dad is 18 and mom is 17, and he says “I don’t think you should have the baby because I can’t feed us working down at KFC”, he’s going to *jail*, which really helps make those child support payments.

    It’s a bad bill. It’s also one that’s likely to get struck down for a due process clause violation (IANAL) of the 14th amendment. But it doesn’t help the women it claims to (since it’s intended to fine people who would need to make child support and alimony payments) and it harms the ability of couples to have rational discussions about consequences. Nothing stops the guy from leaving and divorcing the second the kid is born. It’s an anti-choice law badly disguised as a pro-women one.

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