Michigan Republicans align against abortion rights amid attempt to flip US Senate seat

(Photo Illustration/AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

By Kyle Kaminski

January 24, 2024

Several Republican candidates running for an open US Senate seat in Michigan all oppose abortion rights. But will Michiganders buy what they’re trying to sell?

MICHIGAN—Four of the leading Republican candidates running for a chance to represent Michigan in the US Senate have each voiced support for restricting access to abortion.

Among them: Former US Reps. Mike Rogers and Peter Meijer; Detroit-area businessman Sandy Pensler; and former Detroit Police Chief James Craig—all of whom are candidates in the Aug. 6 Republican primary election for a soon-to-be vacant seat in the US Senate.

Here’s the deal:

Democratic US Sen. Debbie Stabenow is retiring at the end of the year. Several Republican and Democratic candidates are running for her seat in the statewide primary elections, and the general election results will play a decisive factor in which party controls Congress next year.

Democrats need to win nearly every single competitive Democratic-held seat across the country—including this one—to defend their narrow majority in the US Senate.

What’s at stake?

Abortion rights are protected in Michigan. But there’s a lot at stake in this year’s elections.

If ex-President Donald Trump and anti-abortion Republicans manage to take control of the federal government in 2025, it could lead to sweeping, nationwide restrictions on abortion—even in Michigan, where those rights are now protected by the state Constitution.

Republican operatives have crafted an expansive (and literal) blueprint that lays out in detail how they intend to leverage virtually every arm, tool, and agency of the federal government to attack abortion access—including by banning and criminalizing access to abortion medication.

And with Trump leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination after scoring wins in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, Republican candidates in Michigan are now standing ready to carry out his anti-abortion agenda in Congress—if voters will let them.

Here’s a look at the four leading Republican candidates for Senate in Michigan and where they stand on reproductive freedom:

Mike Rogers

Former Republican US Rep. Mike Rogers announced his Senate campaign in September—and he has made it clear over the course of his political career that he opposes reproductive rights.

In 2010, Rogers voiced support for a near-total abortion ban in response to an MLive candidate survey, where he stated “abortions should be legal only to prevent the death of the mother.”

More recently, after Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to abortion care was overturned, Rogers reportedly told the Daily Mining Gazette that he supported the decision—and he also vowed to back additional restrictions to care, such as a “full ban on federal funding for abortion.”

And had he lived in Michigan instead of Florida last year, Rogers told reporters that he would’ve voted against Proposal 3 to cement the right to reproductive freedom—including abortion care—into the state Constitution, which passed with about 56% of the vote last year.

Rogers also told voters at a town hall event in New Hampshire last summer that he has “been a pro-life candidate my entire career.” And when asked specifically about whether he would support a national abortion ban if elected to Congress, he replied: “I’d have to look at it.”

His congressional record is also littered with votes for anti-abortion bills.

In 2012, Rogers voted for a bill that would’ve banned most abortions (without exceptions for rape or incest) in Washington, D.C. And about one year later, he co-sponsored legislation with US Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) that sought to ban and criminalize abortions across the country.

That legislation never made it to a vote, but Rogers later voted in support of another anti-abortion bill in 2013 that aimed to ban abortions after 20 weeks, with limited exceptions. That bill passed the US House, but never ended up passing through the US Senate.

Rogers also voted for other anti-abortion bills—including legislation to force patients to receive a misinformation-filled “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Brochure” before getting an abortion.

His steady record on opposing reproductive freedom was also enough to earn him a nearly flawless candidate score from The Family Research Council, which is designated as an extremist, anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and masquerades as an “educational organization” in an attempt to steer voters toward anti-abortion candidates.

James Craig

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig—who was a leading Republican candidate for governor last year before fraudulent signatures on his paperwork derailed his campaign—made the decision to enter the crowded race for Michigan’s open US Senate seat in October.

In 2021, Craig reportedly vowed to block any attempt by Democrats to repeal Michigan’s 90-year-old ban on abortion, which made it a felony to perform an abortion in the state.

That law has since been ruled unconstitutional and repealed—but had Craig been behind the governor’s desk instead of Whitmer, he made it clear that he would oppose reproductive rights.

In recordings obtained by American Bridge 21st Century, Craig was asked if he would stop Democratic lawmakers “from undoing the law that makes abortion illegal in Michigan.”

He responded: “I will do whatever I can—I’m pro-life.”

Peter Meijer

Former Republican Congressman Peter Meijer, an heir to the eponymous multi-billion-dollar grocery store chain, announced his campaign for the open Senate seat in November.

In 2022, Meijer said that he supported the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and also took it a step further—telling the Detroit News that he “does see a need for federal legislation to ban or restrict abortion” nationwide, with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Meijer was questioned on the topic again last year during an episode of PBS’ Off the Record, where he still refused to denounce the concept of a nationwide abortion ban—even after the vast majority of Michiganders voted to cement reproductive rights into the state Constitution.

While in Congress, Meijer also voted against the federal Women’s Health Protection Act, which aimed to create federal legal protections for both providers and patients of reproductive care.

Sandy Pensler

Grosse Pointe Park businessman Sandy Pensler joined the list of Republican candidates in December. And Michiganders don’t need to look far to decipher his views on abortion: “I have the same position on being pro-life as President Reagan and President Trump,” Pensler said.

Pensler, the founder of a private investment firm near Detroit, has spent several million dollars of his personal fortune on two failed attempts to get elected to Congress—in 1992 and most recently in 2018. In past campaigns, Pensler also made it clear that he opposes reproductive rights—even once labeling the precedent set in Roe v. Wade as “tyrannical.”

In a 2018 radio interview, Pensler also labeled the Affordable Care Act as a “disaster” and said that he wouldn’t think twice about repealing the healthcare program if elected to Congress—a move which would cause an estimated 3 million Michiganders to either be denied treatment or potentially lose their insurance coverage altogether, including for reproductive healthcare.

READ MORE: Michiganders protected abortion. Republicans are plotting a reversal.

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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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