8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

By Kyle Kaminski

December 19, 2023

After the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Michigan has emerged as a nationwide beacon for protecting reproductive rights and expanding access to abortion care.

MICHIGAN—Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called it a “sad day for America” after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year and jeopardized the abortion rights of tens of millions of women across the country. But in Michigan, she vowed to “fight like hell” to protect access to care.

“I want every Michigander to know that I am more determined than ever to protect access to safe, legal abortion,” Whitmer said after the ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson came down last year. “Now is the time to use every tool in our toolbox to protect women and reproductive health care.

“I will not give in or give up for my kids, your kids, and the future of our great state.”

About 18 months later, abortion has been banned or more tightly restricted in dozens of states. But in Michigan, Whitmer has kept her promises—and over the last year, the state has emerged as a nationwide beacon for protecting reproductive freedom and expanding access to health care.

Haven’t kept up with the headlines?

Here’s a breakdown of what you may have missed over the last year:

1.) Michiganders have never lost access to abortion care.

In ruling on Dobbs, an unelected group of conservative judges on the US Supreme Court overturned almost 50 years of precedent in finding that women didn’t have a constitutional right to abortion care. And it opened the door for state-level abortion bans to go back into effect— including in Michigan, where a 1931 law had threatened to criminalize abortion care statewide.

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing on June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

On the same day of the ruling, Whitmer filed a motion urging a court to consider declaring the state’s 1931 abortion ban to be unconstitutional. A subsequent injunction prevented that old law from ever being enforced before the Michigan Supreme Court eventually sided with Whitmer—and Planned Parenthood of Michigan—in declaring the old state law unconstitutional.

And after a majority of voters supported Proposal 3 at the polls last November, Michiganders officially cemented their right to reproductive care into the state Constitution.

2.) The state’s abortion ban was officially repealed.

The passage of Proposal 3 effectively made Michigan’s outdated abortion ban unenforceable. 

But this year, Democratic lawmakers wanted to seal the deal by repealing the law altogether. 

A package of bills to formally erase the nearly 100-year-old statute from state law was passed by the state Legislature (with almost no Republican support) in March. And Whitmer signed them into law in April, effectively aligning state law with the newly amended State Constitution.

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses supporters before signing legislation to repeal the 1931 abortion ban statute. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

“Michiganders sent a clear message: we deserve to make our own decisions about our bodies,” Whitmer said. “Standing up for people’s fundamental freedoms is the right thing to do.”

Specifically, House Bill 4006 repealed a section of the state’s penal code which had prescribed felony charges for those who administer abortion care, as well another section that made it a misdemeanor to advertise or sell medications that are designed to induce an abortion. 

“The passage of Proposal 3 shows us clearly that people want to see this antiquated, zombie law repealed. It’s imperative that we make this technical cleanup so we are in alignment with what the State Constitution says,” said Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor). “The people of Michigan decided, and now it is imperative for the Legislature to abide by the will of the people.”

3.) Whitmer kept pushing for reproductive freedom.

In the year that has passed since the Dobbs decision, Whitmer also directed insurance companies to ensure abortion is covered to the fullest extent possible and urged President Joe Biden to make birth control available over the counter without a prescription. 

She also signed an executive order refusing to extradite women who come to Michigan for abortion care. And in May, Whitmer signed Democratic-led legislation into state law that prohibits employers from discriminating against women because they’ve had an abortion. 

As neighboring states continued to tighten restrictions on abortion care over the summer, Whitmer also called on lawmakers to keep working to further protect reproductive rights.

“There are still other bad laws that put politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion,” Whitmer said. “This forces patients to drive hundreds of miles for care or mandate that they receive biased, inaccurate information about their health. With a US Supreme Court stripping away basic rights, we must be proactive about repealing these antiquated state laws.”

4.) Licensing tweaks will help expand access to care. 

Democratic lawmakers in the Michigan legislature didn’t waste time. 

About one week after Whitmer’s legislative call to action, a package of bills known as the “Reproductive Health Act” was introduced in the state Senate and began making its way through various legislative committees before it was passed and signed into law last month.

Beginning next year, those new laws will repeal a raft of unnecessary (and cost prohibitive) state rules that have effectively prevented new abortion clinics from opening in underserved areas of the state—including a state law signed in 2012 by former Republican Gov. Rick Snyder which currently requires clinics to perform at least 120 abortions every year in order to be licensed.

That law has reportedly hindered health care by forcing some abortion clinics with less demand to close, and effectively blocked Planned Parenthood of Michigan from offering procedural abortions at 12 of its 15 health centers—making the organization’s northernmost clinic in Flint.

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

Lawmakers said that dearth of access poses an unacceptable inconvenience for patients, and that repealing the licensing limitations will make it easier for providers to expand operations. 

“If we have a constitutional right to reproductive freedom, but it’s not accessible for everyone, then it’s not actually a right,” Speaker Pro Tempore Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) told The ‘Gander earlier this summer. “We need to be proactive and eliminate some of the roadblocks.”

5.) Other legal obstacles to accessing care were removed. 

The Reproductive Health Act also repealed several state-mandated screening procedures that had only applied to abortions—including requirements that forced doctors to perform an array of physical examinations and oral screenings before they were able to provide abortion care.

“This guarantees abortion is treated like all health care, with regulations that reflect current medical standards,” Geiss said. “The freedom to fully control our bodies, lives and futures is vital to all of us, and Michiganders deserve the freedom to make their own medical decisions.” 

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) speaks during a bill signing event. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The legislation also repealed a state law that would have criminalized nurses and doctors for prescribing medication abortion—including one of the most common drugs, mifepristone. The Reproductive Health Act will also allow people to sue if their constitutional rights are infringed.

6.) Access to funding will create access to health care.

Other bills in the Reproductive Health Act are set to protect and expand access to abortion care statewide—including by repealing rules that have prevented the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services from awarding grant funds for ultrasound equipment to abortion providers.

The legislation also effectively ended a statewide ban that had prevented Michigan’s colleges and universities from using any resources to provide student referrals to abortion services

7.) Unscientific jargon was removed from state law.

The new laws also reportedly lift a ban on what Republicans inaccurately call “partial-birth” abortions, which is usually the dilation and extraction procedure used in late-term abortions.

These procedures are extraordinarily rare—with 99% of all abortions taking place before 20 weeks and only 0.2% occurring via the dilation and extraction procedure, which is often only performed in cases of miscarriages, fetal anomalies, or health risks to the pregnant woman. 

8.) Women won’t have to pay extra costs for so-called “rape insurance.”

Additional legislation that Whitmer signed into law this month will officially repeal Michigan’s so-called “rape insurance” law that has banned insurance providers in the state from offering coverage for abortion care without also forcing women to purchase a separate rider.

Whitmer is a sexual assault survivor and has personally lobbied against the legislation ever since it was passed into law in 2013—namely because it forces Michigan women to pay extra costs for insurance every month just in case they’re raped or have an unwanted pregnancy. 

“Any decision about a woman’s body ought to be hers alone,” Whitmer said this month.

8 ways Michigan Democrats protected abortion rights in 2023

Lawmakers have said that private insurers won’t be required to include abortion care as part of their existing coverage when the law takes effect next year. Instead, it will simply allow them the option to wrap abortion care into their existing health plans without charging a separate rider.

“Michiganders’ ability to get abortion care shouldn’t depend on where they live, what type of insurance they have, or how much money they earn,” Dr. Timothy Johnson, an OBGYN in Ann Arbor, said in a statement. “The Reproductive Health Act is an important step toward reducing disparities in health care access and improving health outcomes across the state.”

READ MORE: How Whitmer’s fight for abortion rights helped turn Michigan blue

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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