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Michigan's largest health system reverses course on abortion stance

·5 min read

After a series of mixed messages, Michigan's largest health system on Saturday night officially reversed course on its abortion stance, saying it will continue its practice of providing abortions when medically necessary.

The messages from BHSH System came after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on Friday. The health system initially said it would follow the guidance of Michigan's 1931 abortion law — which is currently unenforceable under a temporary injunction — and only allow pregnancy termination when necessary to preserve the life of the pregnant person.

Hours later Friday, BHSH System President and CEO Tina Freese Decker sent a second message to employees to provide "additional clarity," saying "we will continue to provide high quality reproductive care to all women in Michigan. Both Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health have historically performed abortions when the mother's life was at risk and BHSH System will continue to do so."

Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, will become president and CEO of a new hospital system if a merger between Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health is completed.
Tina Freese Decker, president and CEO of Spectrum Health, will become president and CEO of a new hospital system if a merger between Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health is completed.

Late Saturday night, the health system announced it was reinstating its practices to terminate pregnancies when medically necessary.

"After extensive evaluation and in-depth discussion, and always using compassion as our guide, we have evolved our approach. We continue to have the full support of the BHSH System Board of Directors.

"At present, the current legal landscape regarding abortion in our state is unclear and uncertain. We are aware of the 1931 Michigan law. However, given the uncertainties and confusion surrounding its enforcement, until there is clarity, we will continue our practice of providing abortions when medically necessary," the update stated.

More: Michigan medical community grapples with providing abortion care after Roe v. Wade ruling

More: Michigan ballot initiative seeks to guarantee abortion rights after Roe v. Wade decision

The health system said it continues to believe "these decisions are both personal and private and best made between a woman and her physician." It said about 60 therapeutic, medically necessary abortions that required hospital-level care were performed last year in the BHSH System.

The system is a merger of Grand Rapids-based Spectrum Health and Beaumont Health, which serves southeast Michigan.

"We have not and will not perform elective abortions. We continue to provide care for women’s health, including reproductive needs. We will support our physicians and patients through a multidisciplinary, local committee as they navigate this challenging landscape," the statement read.

"We urge Michigan courts to bring clarity as quickly as possible."

Nina Ledesma, of Detroit holds up her sign and chants as abortion-rights protesters march through downtown Detroit following a rally at the Theodore Levin Federal Court building in Detroit to protest against the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.
Nina Ledesma, of Detroit holds up her sign and chants as abortion-rights protesters march through downtown Detroit following a rally at the Theodore Levin Federal Court building in Detroit to protest against the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

The health system's update was sent out to all employees and was posted on the Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health websites, BHSH System Spokesman Mark Geary said. When asked why the health system reversed course, he referred back to the statement.

Despite Roe being overturned, abortion remains legal in Michigan — for now — because of a temporary injunction barring the enforcement of the state law that bans it in all cases except to save the life of the pregnant person.

It's unclear where courts will take the issue in Michigan, leaving health systems, including BHSH System, grappling with an uncertain legal landscape.

In the first message to employees Friday obtained by the Free Press, Freese Decker said: "Previously, BHSH System's policies and procedures generally allowed pregnancy termination for medical indications, such as when necessary to prevent serious risks to the woman's health or in situations where the fetus is not likely to survive.

"With the Supreme Court ruling, BHSH System's new policy and practices will follow the guidance of the Michigan 1931 law and only allow pregnancy termination when necessary to preserve the life of the woman."

On Twitter and in an emailed release received after 10 p.m. Friday, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, called on BHSH System "to reverse this policy immediately, to continue to allow their providers to give patients the health care they are entitled to under current law, and not to circumvent the courts.”

Andy Levin will represent Michigan's 9th Congressional seat.
Andy Levin will represent Michigan's 9th Congressional seat.

“We must be very clear: abortion is still legal in Michigan. Judge Elizabeth Gleicher granted a preliminary injunction to stop the enforcement of the 1931 law if Roe v. Wade was overturned," said Levin, a member of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. "Yet the very day that the Supreme Court released their decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturned Roe, BHSH System sent a message to all staff saying the entire system would now follow the 1931 law."

Late Saturday night, Levin said on Twitter: "I'm grateful that Beaumont-Spectrum has reversed course. We must continue to make clear that abortion services remain legal and available in Michigan, and I encourage health providers to afford pregnant people the full range of reproductive services."

More: These Mich. prosecutors will not charge women who have abortions, or doctors who perform them

More: Whitmer reacts to Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: 'A sad day for America'

The U.S. Supreme Court Building is seen through a temporary security fence on June 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. Decisions are expected in nine more cases before the end of the Court's current session, with some activists waiting on a highly-anticipated ruling on the potential overturning of Roe vs Wade.
The U.S. Supreme Court Building is seen through a temporary security fence on June 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. Decisions are expected in nine more cases before the end of the Court's current session, with some activists waiting on a highly-anticipated ruling on the potential overturning of Roe vs Wade.

Other health systems also are making decisions or in discussions based on the new legal landscape in the wake of Roe being overturned.

More: The decision to overturn Roe v. Wade changes everything

More: Nessel calls Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe 'a dangerous precedent'

Michigan Medicine said on its Facebook page Friday that it will continue to offer reproductive services, including abortion care. It said it primarily provides abortions for patients who need hospital-level 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," it stated. "Our commitment is to be there for those who need the specialized care we can offer."

Henry Ford Health said in a statement that as health care providers "we have an unwavering commitment to the health and wellbeing of those we serve, and a responsibility to approach this issue through the lens of what’s in the best interest medically of our expectant patients and their families.

"Sometimes those patients are faced with heartbreakingly complex — even life-threatening — scenarios, and they turn to us as their trusted health advisors to guide them — or, sometimes, save them — through our capabilities in medicine. While we will comply with whatever laws come from the overturning of Roe v. Wade, our steadfast dedication to supporting people along their entire health journeys remains.”

Contact Christina Hall: chall@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @challreporter.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan's largest health system reverses course on abortion stance