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Michigan health care system reverses its decision to curtail abortion care after Roe overturned

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Update: Sunday, June 26, 12:05 a.m.

After telling BHSH Health staff Friday that the health system would restrict abortions to cases where it's deemed "necessary to preserve the life of the woman," BHSH CEO Tina Freese Decker reversed course Saturday night.

In an email to employees, Decker wrote that BHSH "will continue our practice of providing abortions when medically necessary."

She noted that the health system performed about 60 "therapeutic, medically necessary abortions that required hospital level care" last year. She said the hospital has not and will not perform "elective abortions."

Original post: Saturday, June 25, 4:45 p.m.

One of Michigan’s largest health systems has told staff they will no longer perform abortions except to save a woman's life.

In a Friday email to employees obtained by Michigan Radio, BHSH Health CEO Tina Freese Decker cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier that day. She wrote that the health system will now “only allow pregnancy termination when necessary to preserve the life of the woman.”

BHSH, formed earlier this year by the merger of Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health, operates more than 20 hospitals and employs more than 60,000 people in Michigan.

Decker’s email said the health system’s new abortion policy will align with Michigan’s 1931 law that makes abortion a felony except when it’s performed to preserve a woman’s life.

That law was dormant under Roe v. Wade, and it’s still unenforceable because of an injunction issued last month by the state Court of Claims.

In a second email to staff later on Friday, Decker explained more of the reasoning behind the decision to curtail abortions.

“There is legal ambiguity regarding enforcement due to an active challenge to the injunction, placing our physicians and clinical teams at risk of criminal liability,” she wrote. “This is not acceptable. We are actively seeking clarity regarding the law and enforcement.”

“Our goal is to ensure our patients are cared for, and you, our team members, are supported and safe as well,” Decker added.

Her email also alluded to the potential consequences of the policy change. Black women account for more than half of abortions obtained in the U.S., and they’re more than three times more likely to not survive a pregnancy than white women.

“There may be an impact on health equity, specifically maternal and infant mortality,” Decker said. “We will research and study the potential outcomes on health equity and implement programs to improve maternal and infant health and reduce mortality, consistent with the law.”

BHSH representatives shared Decker’s second email with Michigan Radio but did not respond to emails or calls seeking comment about the new policy.

Other health systems in Michigan are preparing to expand abortion care in the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson decision overturning Roe.

Copyright 2022 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Brett has a master’s degree from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism and before Michigan Radio, he was an intern at WNYC and with Ian Urbina of the New York Times and worked at WXXI and WCMU. He also produced freelance reporting work focused on health and science in New York City. Brett grew up in Bremerton, Washington, and holds a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon.