Whitmer to Call for Passage of ‘Reproductive Health Act’

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at a rally for reproductive freedom at the state Capitol in 2022. (Governor Gretchen Whitmer via Facebook)

By Michigan Advance

August 29, 2023

BY ANNA GUSTAFSON, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—After Michigan voters resoundingly passed Proposition 3 in the November 2022 election, enshrining the right to abortion and other reproductive health care in the state constitution, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is slated on Wednesday to champion soon-to-be-introduced legislation that would repeal laws restricting Michiganders’ access to abortion.

A longtime advocate of abortion rights whose reelection in November was attributed in part to voters’ support for reproductive health care, Whitmer will in her “What’s Next” speech call on lawmakers to pass the Reproductive Health Act, the governor’s spokesperson Stacey LaRouche told the Advance on Monday. Whitmer’s address on Wednesday will outline priorities for the legislative session this fall. 

Following the governor’s speech, Democratic lawmakers are poised to introduce a revamped Reproductive Health Act “as soon as we get back” in September, Michigan House Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told the Advance on Monday. 

Democrats have in recent years repeatedly introduced legislation referred to as the Reproductive Health Act, which would have repealed Michigan’s targeted restrictions on abortion providers—commonly known as TRAP laws—but were never voted on by Republican-led legislatures.

With Democrats now holding a slim majority in both the state House and Senate—and with 57% of Michigan voters backing Proposal 3 in the November 2022 election—Democratic lawmakers and abortion rights advocates hope the legislature will be able to pass the newest version of the Reproductive Health Act, which Pohutsky noted lawmakers have been working on for months.

“The fact of the matter is we have this constitutional right to reproductive freedom, but that’s not really a right if it’s not accessible to everyone in Michigan,” said Pohutsky, who is one of the lawmakers leading efforts to craft the current Reproductive Health Act and in 2021 introduced a prior version of the legislation.

While the passage of Proposal 3 enshrined the right to abortion and other reproductive health care in the state constitution, it did not negate laws restricting access to abortion that remain on the state’s books. Since taking control of the Michigan Legislature in January, Democratic lawmakers have been making their way through the books to repeal those laws and expand access to abortion. 

In April, Whitmer signed legislation rolling back the state’s 1931 abortion ban that she and Planned Parenthood of Michigan fought to ensure did not go into effect following the fall of Roe v. Wade in June 2022. The governor also signed a bill in May banning employers from discriminating against employees who get an abortion.

But Michigan’s books are “still riddled with dozens of dangerous and unnecessary laws and restrictions that target abortion providers and patients and continue to block their ability to both provide and access care,” Paula Thornton Greear, the interim executive director for the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said during a Monday press conference during which advocates called on state lawmakers to pass the Reproductive Health Act.

In 2012, for example, Whitmer’s predecessor, GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, signed an omnibus abortion restriction law that, among other provisions, requires providers that perform at least 120 abortions per year to meet the same architectural and licensing requirements as ambulatory surgical facilities. The legislation was intended to close clinics that couldn’t meet those demands from the state. 

Currently, the Reproductive Health Act’s draft language includes repealing those building code requirements for abortion providers, Pohutsky said. It also repeals a law that mandates a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion, and the draft legislation would end Michigan’s current ban on health plans under the Affordable Care Act covering abortions unless the pregnancy endangers the life of the pregnant person. The final details of the legislation will be announced once it is formally introduced.

“There’s a lot of cleanup to do throughout Michigan’s laws,” Pohutsky said.

Advocates are calling on lawmakers to pass the Reproductive Health Act, and on Monday leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, the Committee to Protect Health Care, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, and NARAL spoke of the dangers that the current anti-abortion laws pose to Michiganders’ health.

“Our work is not over in Michigan,” Loren Khogali, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, said during Monday’s virtual press conference. “Many laws remain in place that deprive people across the state of their constitutional right to reproductive health care. Some people are forced to drive hundreds of miles to access abortion care.

Others are denied care simply because they can’t afford it. And the people most impacted by these barriers to abortion are those who already face systemic barriers to accessing health care – people with low incomes, people who live in rural areas, people who have a disability, Black and Indigenous people and other people of color, young people, and LGBTQ people.”

Advocates said it’s time for that to change, noting the ongoing wave of support that Michigan voters—as well as people nationwide—have shown for protecting access to abortion care. In the wake of Roe v. Wade being overturned by a right-wing Supreme Court, people seeking abortion care have turned to Michigan in overwhelming numbers. The organization has seen a 300% jump in the number of out-of-state patients it cares for following the end of Roe, including from states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Texas.

“Abortion is not controversial,” said Angela Vasquez-Giroux, vice president of communications and research for NARAL Pro-Choice America. “There is no true debate over whether Americans want abortion to be more or less accessible. Poll after poll shows that eight in 10 Americans support the legal right to abortion, including even one-third of Republicans.

“Here’s the bottom line: From Kansas in August ‘22 to Michigan last November to Ohio earlier this month, it is clear that when Americans are asked to choose between more or less freedom, it always comes down convincingly in favor of more,” Vasquez-Giroux continued. “And we’re here today because while Proposal 3 guaranteed our right to abortion in the state constitution, it did not remove the barriers that keep patients from accessing the care they need.”

The upcoming legislation, Thornton Greear said, would go a long way in addressing those barriers.

“The Reproductive Health Act will not only ensure that sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion, is finally treated like all other health care in Michigan,” she said. “ … While Michiganders now have the legal right to reproductive freedom, it’s time to finish the job and ensure that they also have meaningful access.” 

Dr. Rob Davidson, the executive director for the Committee to Protect Health Care and an emergency physician in West Michigan, said doctors “don’t want politicians meddling in our exam rooms.

“We don’t want old, anti-abortion laws making it difficult for patients to access safe, affordable care, and Michiganders don’t want this either,” Davidson said at the press conference.

Following the press conference, Right to Life of Michigan, a Lansing-based anti-abortion group that worked to defeat Proposal 3, issued a statement condemning the advocates’ call for the Reproductive Health Act. The group took particular issue with the possible removal of the 24-hour waiting period, which Republican Gov. John Engler signed into law in 1999. The law mandates that pregnant people must wait 24 hours before accessing abortion care.

“The suggestion that basic health and safety protections for women must be removed demonstrates the blind fervor with which Planned Parenthood is seeking to expand. This has nothing to do with women and everything to do with their bottom line as the nation’s largest abortion provider,” Legislative Director Genevieve Marnon said in a prepared statement.

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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