Nick Krieger (@nckrieger):
Last year, the Michigan Legislature made a public spectacle of its decision to take several obsolete, redundant, and unnecessary criminal laws off the books. Newspapers and other media outlets picked up the story, widely reporting that it would no longer be a crime to play The Star-Spangled Banner as part of a medley, or to participate in a walk-a-thon or similar endurance contest.
I applaud our lawmakers for trying to clean up Michigan’s voluminous, duplicative, and oft-archaic penal code. But don’t be fooled into thinking that Michigan’s legislative majority has any desire to reduce the number of criminal offenses in general. As I write this post, our state legislators are feverishly attempting to create new crimes, and these new offenses would be just as redundant and unnecessary as the old ones they repealed.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the context of abortion. In March, the Michigan House of Representatives voted 65-43 to prohibit the act of threatening or coercing a woman to have an abortion against her will. The problem? The legislation is completely redundant. It would prohibit a series of acts—including stalking, assault and battery, and other assaultive offenses—that are already crimes. The bill is currently pending before the Michigan Senate judiciary committee.
Today, the Michigan Senate voted 26-10 to make it illegal for any person to financially benefit from the sale, transfer, or distribution of human fetal tissue that is obtained through an elective abortion. Just like the House legislation discussed above, this Senate fetal-tissue bill would prohibit conduct that is already against the law. Both federal law and state law currently prohibit the sale of fetal tissue and remains. Indeed, under federal law, the transfer of human fetal tissue for valuable consideration is a 10-year felony. The Senate bill has been transmitted to the Michigan House for consideration.
Lastly, albeit unrelated to criminal legislation, I note that the Michigan House voted yesterday to implement new penalties for teachers and public school employees who distribute family-planning devices or assist pupils in obtaining abortions. Is this even an issue that needs addressing? How many public school employees are really pushing birth-control drugs and abortions? You really have to wonder.
As I have pointed out, these redundant, unnecessary bills are not only a waste of legislative resources; they also constitute the classic solution in search of a problem. Particularly in an election year like this one, however, they do serve a purpose for lawmakers who are seeking to beef up their pro-life bona fides. In today’s era of term limits, Republican legislators must turn to right-wing donors for help with fundraising and election to higher political office. After all, money is the name of the game in politics. These wasteful and unnecessary abortion bills allow GOP lawmakers to portray themselves to donors and supporters as proactive defenders of human life—even though the bills will do nothing to reduce abortions at all.
Michigan has big issues that need solving. How sad that our lawmakers are willing to waste state government time and resources to prohibit conduct that is already illegal, especially when their efforts are so transparently motivated by personal, political gain.