If Michigan Abortion Patients Screw Up Printing a Form, Their Appointment Gets Canceled
The needless task results in hundreds of cancelations a month. One abortion provider said it “could be days...even weeks before someone is able to get back.”AbortionPolitics
The right to abortion is currently protected in Michigan but providers say it’s still way too hard to access because of older laws that remain in effect. Case in point: Hundreds of people are getting their appointments canceled every month because they incorrectly filled out a form that has to be printed and signed 24 hours beforehand.
Halley Crissman, an OB-GYN and abortion provider in Ann Arbor, told Michigan’s NPR station that the process is much too tedious and prone to errors for such essential healthcare. “Try to figure out what you’re supposed to print. See if you get it right,” she said. “Because every day I see patients who’ve driven five hours for abortion care. And they haven’t gotten it right.”
This “informed consent” form is part of the state’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period; people have to sign it to testify that they’ve reviewed materials the state requires (which are on a different webpage) before they can have an abortion. They have to print out the form and sign it at least 24 hours before the appointment but not more than two weeks early—the form expires after that point. The online form automatically generates a timestamp and providers have to double-check it before they can proceed.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan told Michigan Radio that issues with the form lead to an average of 150 people’s appointments getting canceled every month. And that’s just the number at Planned Parenthood—there are at least eight independent abortion clinics in the state as well. The number could easily exceed 200 people every month.
“We tell patients about it when they schedule the appointment (both through our call center and online) and we make reminder calls, but it isn’t enough. People may not read the instructions thoroughly, they may not have access to a printer or Wi-Fi, they may miss the time window, they may forget the paperwork at home…the list goes on,” Ashlea Phenicie, a PPMI spokesperson said.
The form trips up people who simply don’t want to be pregnant as well as people who are facing time-sensitive health complications from pregnancy. Charita Roque, an OB-GYN and assistant professor at Western Michigan University’s medical school, testified in September that one of her patients had developed a potentially life-threatening heart problem called peripartum cardiomyopathy. She made an abortion appointment but she didn’t have a printer and didn’t bring the form to her appointment, which had to be canceled.
“Her cardiac status became even higher risk, and it was evident that she would need a higher level of care in a hospital setting,” Roque said. “This meant that the cost would be much, much higher: over $10,000. And since her insurance was legally prohibited from covering abortion care, she anticipated she would have to incur significant medical debt. In the end, she suffered a five-week delay from the first day I saw her [to] when her procedure was finally completed. The delay was entirely unnecessary.”
Abortion provider Lisa Harris told Michigan Radio that rescheduling isn’t easy because clinics are booked up and people have to make arrangements for childcare and time off work. It “could be days, or sometimes even weeks before someone is able to get back,” she said.
This absurd form process is required despite voters passing Prop 3 in November, which enshrined a right to abortion in the state constitution. Michigan Democrats are trying to repeal it via the Reproductive Health Act, but that effort is being thwarted by one lawmaker: state Rep. Karen Whitsett (D).
The Reproductive Health Act contains 11 bills that would repeal the 24-hour waiting period and the consent form, plus it would lift the ban on Medicaid covering abortions and allow private insurance to cover abortions without a separate coverage rider. The bill still passed out of a committee despite Whitsett voting against it, but Democrats only have a two-seat majority in the house and can’t lose any more votes.
Whitsett, a rape survivor who had an abortion, claims she’s still pro-choice but wants people to still have the waiting period. She said if printing the form is too much of a burden, then “let’s bring this into 2023: How about you DocuSign?” She added, “I still do not think that 24 hours of a pause, to make sure you’re making the right decision, is too much to ask.” She also opposes using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions.
Crissman told Michigan Radio what she thought of Whitsett’s stance. “I wish Representative Whitsett could sit with me, and tell a patient to their face: ‘No, we can’t provide your abortion care today, because you printed the wrong page on this 24-hour consent,’” Crissman said. “Or ‘No, mother of five trying to make ends meet and feed your kids, you can’t use your Medicaid to pay for abortion care.’ Because I don’t want to tell patients that anymore.”