Meet MI Leader: Rosemary Bayer Eyes Progress on Education and Reproductive Freedom

Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) stands in solidarity with with Everytown for Gun Safety. Bayer has her sights set on education for the next legislative session. (Senator Rosemary Bayer via Facebook)

By Hope O'Dell

September 14, 2022

State Sen. Rosemary Bayer is turning her post-Roe anger into an action plan to improve abortion access and equitably increase funding for public schools in Michigan. And in one of the most competitive districts in the state this November, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

MICHIGAN—When Rosemary Bayer found out that Roe v. Wade had been overturned by the US Supreme Court, she stood up, and shouted at the television. “No! No! No!” she yelled at the screen.

Even as a state senator, she felt powerless—like so many other Michiganders, that she had lost control.

“What are we going to do?” Bayer thought at the time. 

In the front of her mind was a low-income region in the middle of her district in Southeast Michigan,  which is surrounded by more affluent areas, like West Bloomfield Township and Farmington Hills. 

Bayer knew that for those residents in particular, Roe’s overturn could play a big role in keeping them in poverty. If abortion were to be banned in Michigan, the costs of child care or traveling to receive an abortion would pose a burden for many—especially for those already without enough to get by. 

Studies show almost half of abortion patients live below the federal poverty line, which means less than $17,420 for a family of two (most abortion patients are unmarried and already have at least one child). And for some, the cost of traveling out-of-state to get an abortion can rise to nearly $10,000.

According to another study which followed 1,000 women who were seeking an abortion, those who couldn’t access an abortion were about four times more likely to live below the federal poverty line.

“There’s so many families and so many individuals who will be forced into poverty because of having to have unwanted children,” Bayer told The ‘Gander. “Even though, yes, they may hopefully grow up and love those babies, and that’s their family, and it turns out really happy. Those children are now likely to be in poverty.” 

Bayer wants to turn that post-Roe panic into action this November.

As a senator, she’s already working on legislation to provide free birth control, and has her sights set on taking reproductive freedom to the Legislature—along with other issues like voting rights and public education funding. But this hinges on her, along with four other Democrats, winning their races to put the state Senate under Democratic control. 

And in Michigan’s 13th District, in particular, the stakes are high—and personal for Bayer. Her Republican opponent, Jason Rhines, is on the extreme opposite end of the spectrum when it comes to reproductive freedom—with an endorsement from the anti-abortion group, Right to Life of Michigan. 

With so much on the line this fall, Bayer wants to come back to the Senate armed with tangible plans to protect and improve Michiganders’ rights. She’s now leaning on voters to give her that opportunity. 

RELATED: Meet the Oxford Senator Who’s Pushing for Better Gun Safety Laws

Reproductive Freedom

Bayer fought for abortion access when she was a student at Central Michigan University. Roe had been decided about six years before, but there was still limited access to abortion care, even if it was legal.

“You couldn’t even find birth control where I was at college in the middle of the mitten,” Bayer said. 

Bayer helped build those services up at CMU, teaching classes about birth control and other reproductive health care. For her, overturning Roe also helped overturn her past advocacy work. 

“It feels like it’s really, really unfair for those of us who already did this fight and feel like we shouldn’t have to do it again,” she said.

But she continues to fight. 

Bayer has sponsored and co-sponsored a package of bills that would repeal the state’s 1931 abortion ban. Another example: Her office is currently writing another bill that would provide free birth control to every Michigander—with a key focus on trying to ensure that the resources are provided equitably. 

“It’s certainly not going to pass while the Republicans are in the majority,” she said. “It’s not going to get a vote or anything. But it’ll be there and it’ll be ready for what happens in November.” 

She also commends other women in state government, like Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who continues to fight for reproductive freedom—including by urging the state Supreme Court to get involved. The ban has since been declared unconstitutional, but Republicans have already shown a willingness to get strict limitations on abortion care back on the books if voters keep them in power past November. 

For now, abortion is still legal in all 83 counties in Michigan. 

“It helps people that are also in line with the same beliefs to have the strength of (Whitmer) behind you,” she said. “That there’s really big, important people that are thinking the same way you are.” 

A Voting Tip from Sen. Rosemary Bayer: Make sure you know which candidates are for abortion and which aren’t. Some candidates who have previously been against abortion access are publicly changing their stance while in reality, maintaining the same viewpoints. If you want to know what your elected officials’ stances are on reproductive freedom, you can check out their voting records here.

Bayer was first elected in 2018, after launching her own business, ardentCause L3C, in 2009–which focused on helping nonprofits with information technology needs. She said going from a team-oriented business to the individuality of politics in an election year was a bit of culture shock.  

“The big focus is on winning your own election,” she said. “And as much as we try to help each other and do the right thing for everybody, we really are responsible to win our own election.” 

Bayer’s district, in particular, is rated among the most competitive in Michigan—especially considering Bayer skated into office by a margin of less than 1% in 2018. And if she wins in November, the Senate could only be three more seats away from turning blue for the first time since the early 80s.

If that happens, Bayer said the legislature would be able to make significant progress on turning voters’ goals into reality—rather than constantly facing legislative blockades from Republican leadership. And along with reproductive freedom, that includes strides in public education and expanded voting access. 

Until then, the minority party is effectively powerless when it comes to setting the legislative agenda.

RELATED: How Rosemary Bayer Went From Computer Scientist to State Senator

Looking Past November

Beyond personal choice, Bayer is also laser-focused on education—specifically, the equitable funding of Michigan’s school districts. The Education Law Center recently gave Michigan a “D” grade for how well it targets its state funding to districts in low-income areas, compared to wealthier communities.

When Bayer was elected in 2018, she wanted to change that. But with Republican control in the Legislature comes Republican control of the budget—including education funding. Bayer said that has led to inconsistencies in education funding, which is creating real consequences for Michigan students. 

“One of the first things I was told, the first year, was ‘We don’t use the word equity here,’” Bayer said.

Again this year, much of the GOP’s platform on education remains focused on fear mongering around nonexistent issues–like eliminating Critical Race Theory that isn’t being taught in a single public school district in Michigan, and bills to ban drag shows in schools, which also isn’t happening in Michigan.

Along with echoing false claims against LGBTQ+ school staff and students, GOP gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon has also promoted policies to effectively defund Michigan’s public schools—an idea from billionaire Betsy DeVos that has since garnered support from a wide Republican base. 

In her first term, Bayer said she was focused on creating equal funding as a stepping stone to truly equitable funding for public schools, a goal that may only be met with a shift in the political winds.

The latest state budget, which had bipartisan support, has the highest per-pupil spending of $9,150. That’s still $1,271 less than the amount recommended by the Michigan School Finance Collaborative.

“We’ve made good progress, but we have a ways to go,” Bayer said, noting she wants to work toward a more consistent funding model in her second term. “So that’s the goal. That’s why I’m running again, because we didn’t get that model. We couldn’t do it with the Republicans.”


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