Exclusive: Sen. Debbie Stabenow gets real with Michiganders about abortion

Exclusive: Sen. Debbie Stabenow gets real with Michiganders about abortion

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, speaks to reporters after a closed-door Democratic strategy meeting, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Bonnie Fuller

March 19, 2024

The retiring senator, well-known for her love of Michigan and her commitment to protecting the rights of Michiganders, was asked to talk about her legacy. But the straight-talker had something far more urgent on her mind.

MICHIGAN—Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan has a warning for the women and men of the Mitten State: If Donald Trump is reelected, he will undo everything we’ve accomplished to protect reproductive freedom.

“We worked so hard, people got petitions signed. We got the (constitutional amendment to protect abortion) on the ballot. We voted in 2022,” Stabenow tells The ‘Gander in an exclusive interview. “But if we don’t protect all that, if Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are not reelected and Trump comes in with the Republicans, all of that will be out the window. So that’s my message.”

Stabenow, who has represented Michigan in the US Senate since 2001, in the US House of Representatives from 1997-2001, and in state and local government since 1975, will retire after her current term ends in January 2025. 

The Clare native has always been a strong proponent of a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions, and she is now urging like-minded Michiganders to stay engaged through the 2024 election. 

“Listen, you did your work … But the reality is we’ve got to do it one more time. Trump’s got to be out of there. We’ve got to hold onto the Senate, retake the House, and then we can actually put into law a new Roe v. Wade protection.”

Michiganders have fought hard since the repeal of Roe v. Wade to enshrine reproductive rights for residents across the state, especially after a majority of voters supported Proposal 3 at the polls in November 2022. 

“We thought we had this all protected,” Stabenow says, adding that she’s thankful for what Michigan’s voters have done to protect women’s rights in recent years. 

Stabenow is urging Michiganders and voters across the country to reelect Biden and give Democrats the majority in Congress. If they do that, she says, legislators could pass—and President Biden would sign—a national law that protects reproductive freedom, just as Roe v. Wade did. 

President Biden echoed the senator’s sentiments in his recent State of the Union address when he vowed, “If you, the American people, send me a Congress that supports the right to choose, I promise you I will restore Roe v. Wade, as the law of the land again.” 

Right now, there are 48 Democrats, 49 Republicans, and three Independents (who caucus with the Democrats) in the US Senate. (Every state gets two senators. Find yours here.) In the US House of Representatives, there are 213 Democrats, 219 Republicans, and three vacancies. (That’s a total of 435—find your reps here.) A total of 468 seats (33 in the Senate and all in the House) are up for election on November 5, 2024.

Stabenow also wants Michigan’s men to understand that reproductive freedom, including the right to an abortion, isn’t just a women’s issue.

“It affects everybody you love—your daughter, your sister, your wife, your mother,” she says. “It affects you in every way, whether or not you and your family will make your own reproductive decisions.”

Could abortion access go away in Michigan under Donald Trump?

According to recent reporting by the New York Times, aides say Trump hopes to impose a 16-week national abortion ban if he returns to power. He reportedly picked 16 weeks not due to advice of any medical professionals but because it’s a round number. “Know what I like about 16? It’s even. It’s four months,” he was reported to have said in private conversations. 

While Trump has said he does support exceptions for rape, incest, and when a mother’s life is in danger, he has not expressed support for exceptions for other health risks to the mother, including threats of impairment to her bodily functions—nor for a woman whose fetus has a fatal anomaly and won’t survive outside the uterus.

Despite all the work Michigan’s local organizers put into getting Proposal 3 onto the ballot and then approved by voters, a national abortion ban would override its protections.

Even if Trump can’t get a ban through Congress, there are plans to make abortion impossible nationwide by enforcing the 1873 Comstock Act, as detailed in Project 2025’s Mandate for Leadership. Project 2025 is the “Presidential Transition Project”—the plans and policies that would go into effect under a newly elected Trump administration. It was compiled by right-wing conservative organization the Heritage Foundation. Among other things, Project 2025 would immediately replace the current executive branch of government with a “unitary executive”—a president who has absolute power over the executive branch. 

The Comstock Act of 1873 was an attempt by a man named Anthony Comstock to clean up a culture of impurity. He convinced the 42nd Congress to prohibit things he found to be “immoral”—including the mailing or shipping of sex toys, contraceptives, “lewd” writings, and anything that could be used in an abortion (whether medication or surgical).

Though Congress repealed portions of the law related to birth control in 1971, anti-abortion groups and Trump are arguing that the Comstock Act can still be used to prevent the mailing of mifepristone, one of two medications used in a medication abortion, along with any surgical supplies that doctors need to perform abortions.

That move alone would end all access to abortion in Michigan, and the entire country.

All health care is under threat in 2024

An increasing number of women have gone public with stories about almost dying while awaiting treatment for pregnancy complications and miscarriages—delayed due to abortion bans in states like Texas, Tennessee, Florida, Oklahoma, and idaho. 

Some have also lost their ability to bear children after being refused treatment until they were near death.

“It’s incredibly shocking and frightening to see the extent to which Republicans are willing to say to women, ‘Sit in the parking lot [of hospitals] in your car and only come in when you’re really, really almost dead’,” says Sen. Stabenow.

“It’s unbelievable. The men that I know don’t want that for their families. For their wives, for their daughters, for anybody they know. I mean, what in the world? The devaluing of women’s lives, it’s shocking, actually.” 

Exclusive: Sen. Debbie Stabenow gets real with Michiganders about abortion

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., speaks during a news conference announcing investments in the nation’s behavioral health infrastructure, during a news conference at the HHS Humphrey Building, Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

When it comes to accessible health care—an issue that originally drew Stabenow into politics in 1974, when a local commissioner tried to close down a nursing home in Ingham County—the senator points to Trump’s plans to slash Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security reserves. 

During a March 11 appearance on CNBC’s Squawk Box, Trump stated, “There is a lot you can do in terms of entitlements—in terms of cutting.”

Stabenow says that, in opposition to cutting these services that directly benefit the American people, Biden and Democrats in Congress have made affordable health care a priority. They’ve capped insulin at $35 a month and out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $3,300 a year for seniors. In 2025, that cap will drop to $2,000.

“I have people saying to me, ‘Wow, wow, that really made a difference to me and my family and my ability to buy food and pay the rent. That’s amazing,’” Stabenow says.

Similar to reproductive health care, however, she warns that all those benefits could be gone if Trump returns to the White House. 

“There’s no question. [Republicans] have already said they’re going to take away all that,” she says. “They’re going to stop Medicare from negotiating lower prices. They’re going to take away all the protections in terms of out-of-pocket costs. They’re going to take away all of it. These guys are about protecting the drug companies.”

She points out that not one Republican voted to cap insulin at $35 a month or allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices.

Stabenow goes on to tell The ’Gander that she is proud to see that a record-breaking 21 million people have signed up for the Affordable Healthcare Act in 2024, including 418,000 in Michigan.

“We have a president now who puts people first, who has the right values, who gets that, in the past, we’ve just seen an economy that was based on helping the wealthy—and he’s turning that around,” she says. “We need another four years to really lock this in and make sure that this effort to grow the middle class locks in.”

More than 150 million Americans—about 45% of the population—currently receive health care benefits through Medicare and Medicaid, while 68 million receive monthly Social Security checks after having paid into the program all of their working lives.

Who will fill Stabenow’s seat?

As the first Michigan woman elected to the US Senate, Stabenow has been a groundbreaker for more than two decades—and she remains hopeful that women will continue to be leaders in the state long after her term ends.

“It’s really important to me to keep the legacy going of women moving forward in Michigan,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of firsts—the first woman to preside over the Michigan House of Representatives, first woman being the senator from Michigan. But, you know what? If there’s not a second, it’s called a token. And so I think you’ve got to have a second, a third, and a fourth.”

The race for Stabenow’s seat is expected to be the “lone competitive open seat in the country this year,” according to the AP.

Right now, there are three Democrats and at least 12 Republicans vying for the chance to take it in November. Of them, Stabenow calls Democrat Elissa Slotkin—currently one of Michigan’s US Representatives—“terrific,” though she has a long-held policy of not officially endorsing candidates before Democratic primaries.

“We in Michigan have been so blessed to be able to move from very few women in office to now a woman governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state,” she continues. “And so we’ve come a long way. I really hope that I have helped to break down those doors, and that’s my goal now, is to be able to pass the torch.”

All Michigan voters are eligible to vote in the August 6 primary election.


  • Bonnie Fuller

    Bonnie Fuller is the former CEO & Editor-in-Chief of HollywoodLife.com, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, USWeekly and YM. She now writes about politics and reproductive rights. She can be followed on her Substack at: BonnieFuller1 ‘Your Body, Your Choice.

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