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Republican Senate candidates face backlash over anti-abortion records in Michigan

Republican Senate candidates face backlash over anti-abortion records in Michigan

Photo Illustration/Bill Pugliano/Scott J. Ferrell/Getty Images

By Kyle Kaminski

June 28, 2024

Reproductive freedom is enshrined in Michigan’s state Constitution—but all of the state’s Republican Senate candidates have a history of attacking those rights.

LANSING—Shanay Watson-Whittaker is proud of the fact that Michiganders never lost access to abortion care in the two years since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

As the state campaign director for Reproductive Freedom for All, Watson-Whittaker played a key role in the passage of Proposal 3, which was approved by voters in 2022 and cemented reproductive rights into the state Constitution in the absence of nationwide protections.

“Here in Michigan, we have fought to ensure reproductive freedom,” Watson-Whittaker said Thursday at a press conference on the steps of the state Capitol. “That’s a great thing.”

But if ex-President Donald Trump and anti-abortion Republicans manage to take back control of the federal government in 2025, they could enact sweeping, nationwide restrictions on abortion—even in Michigan, where those rights are protected, Watson-Whittaker warned.

And with about three months to go until Michiganders start voting in this year’s presidential election, Watson-Whittaker and reproductive rights leaders aren’t taking anything for granted.

“Anti-abortion Republicans will roll back our progress,” Watson-Whittaker said. “If they had their way, they’d pass a national abortion ban that would block access to care even here in our state where our rights are currently protected. That’s exactly the future that they want for Michigan.”

Watson-Whittaker was joined this week by state Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou (D-East Lansing) and retired Lansing OB-GYN Matthew Allswede, where they spoke out against all three Republican candidates for Michigan’s open US Senate seat—and their anti-abortion records.

“Michiganders have shown time and time again that our reproductive freedom is not up for negotiation,” Watson-Whittaker said. “The stakes are high. Michigan’s role in the fight for reproductive freedom has never been more important. It’s on all of us to do our part.”

Here’s the deal:

All three of the Republican candidates running for a chance to represent Michigan in the US Senate this year have previously voiced support for restricting or banning access to abortion. 

They include: Former Republican US Reps. Mike Rogers and Justin Amash; and Detroit-area businessman Sandy Pensler—all candidates in the Aug. 6 Republican primary election for a soon-to-be vacant seat in the US Senate that’s currently held by US Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

“We have made so much progress to protect abortion. We can’t let anti-choice candidates send us backwards,” Allswede explained. “Women must be able to make the best choices for their unique medical conditions, their families, and their values—without government interference.”

Mike Rogers

Rogers has been viewed as the frontrunner in the Republican primary, and is expected to face off against Democratic US Rep. Elissa Slotkin for the seat in the November general election.

And he has made it clear over the course of his 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 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 in 2022, 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.

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 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.

Justin Amash

Amash represented Grand Rapids in the US House from 2011 to 2021. He formally left the Republican Party in 2019 after calling for Trump’s impeachment, but has since returned to the GOP and is now running as a Republican for a chance to represent Michigan in the US Senate.

He has previously voiced support for an abortion ban, has described himself as “100% pro-life,” and supported the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe and nationwide abortion access.

During his time in Congress, Amash also co-sponsored legislation that would’ve restricted access to in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment—including subjecting clinics to onerous reporting requirements—and supported another bill that sought to ban taxpayer funding for abortion care.

Like Rogers, Amash has also received a perfect A+ rating from Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America Group, which scores lawmakers based on their staunch, anti-abortion records. 

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.

What’s next? 

The outcome of Michigan’s Senate race will play a decisive factor in which political party controls Congress next year—which could ultimately dictate the future of reproductive rights. 

Watson-Whittaker expects the Republican Senate candidates—particularly Rogers—to try to distance themselves from their anti-abortion records as Election Day approaches, especially as polls continue to show that most Michiganders remain in strong support of reproductive rights.

“It’s clear [Rogers] couldn’t be more out-of-touch with the majority of Michiganders who support abortion rights and access,” she said at this week’s press conference. “He doesn’t care about what’s best for us. Rogers is trying to fool Michiganders, but he has made it crystal clear where he stands on this issue. If he is elected, he will help Republicans try to ban abortion nationwide and take our freedom to make our own personal decisions about our lives and our bodies.”

As neighboring states continued to tighten restrictions on abortion care, Michigan Democrats have expanded access to both abortion care and IVF—including through the recent passage of both the Reproductive Health Act and the Michigan Family Protection Act.

Tsernoglou was among the lead sponsors of the Family Protection Act. But she said she’s worried that progress would become meaningless if Trump wins in November and Republicans (like Rogers) are able to pass a nationwide abortion ban through Congress in 2025.

“Mike Rogers, Sandy Pensler, and Justin Amash all put women’s rights at risk, and all three of them support dangerous abortion bills,” she said. “These Republican extreme anti-abortion records are harmful to families, out of step with our values, and too dangerous for Michigan.”

Watson-Whittaker added: “It’s on all of us to do our part. To protect abortion rights and access, we must mobilize and elect candidates who will fight for reproductive freedom, candidates who will restore the federal right to abortion and expand access. Let’s get to work, Michigan.”

READ MORE: Michigan protected abortion after Roe. Republicans are plotting a reversal.

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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