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Commentary: Women's health and the Democrats

Democrats did something unusual yesterday. They came out with some new ideas and announced a package of things and innovative reforms they are for, rather than against.

The subject was mainly women’s health care, and for once, the party seems united around a well-thought out package of bills. Tim Griemel, who is still finding his voice as House Minority Leader, told a press conference “when a woman doesn’t get the health care she needs when she is pregnant, it isn’t just her own health that’s at stake. When a woman can’t get the care she needs after a violent attack, everyone who loves and supports her suffers along with her.”

That’s something that ought to touch voters who’ve been following the horrific kidnapping saga in Cleveland. What struck me about this package was how carefully thought out it is. Some parts are actually resolutions, one urging this be named “National Women’s Health Week,” and another asking the state to work harder to reduce teen pregnancies.

They also want the Department of Community Health to promote programs to give more attention to research, prevention and treatment of diseases that threaten women.

Those are all relatively non-controversial. They then announced a package of four bills. HB 4260 would require physicians to give women information about breast density as part of cancer prevention.

HB 4067 would require all health facilities to offer emergency contraception to those who have been raped, and HB 4722 would require the Department of Community Health to provide information about emergency contraception.

Finally, HB 4721 would require age-appropriate, objective and medically accurate sex education to be taught in Michigan’s public schools. Greimel said that while abstinence was certainly a proper part of that education, preaching abstinence alone is not sufficient in today’s world. The Democrats seem, for once, to have taken Republicans and the anti-abortion lobby by surprise. Ed Rivet, the main lobbyist for Right to Life of Michigan, said his group usually stays neutral on emergency contraception.

Ari Adler, spokesman for the House Republican caucus, said, or sneered, “we are always open to considering serious proposals, if that’s what this is, regardless of the source.”

Well, that’s not really true.

Democrats are heavily outnumbered in both houses, and the chance majority Republicans are going to go along with anything that makes Democrats look good is virtually non-existent.

But there may be more risks in ignoring this issue, especially since a group of lawmakers plan to tour to drum up support for it. Republicans have major problems winning women’s votes these days. Ignoring their health care concerns won’t help.

Incidentally, the GOP spokesman said something else meant as a sneer, but which should be taken seriously.

He said, “we can’t wait to review the Democrats’ proposal for solving Michigan’s transportation questions.” Well, he’s right.

The Democrats should have a road repair policy, as well as carefully thought out positions on other issues. For the last two years, they’ve mainly told us what they were against. Let’s hope their women’s health care proposal is a start at telling us what they are for.

Jack Lessenberry is going on vacation this week and will return to his normal schedule on May 27, 2013.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, the University of Michigan.