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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday repealed several abortion restrictions from Michigan law, signing a so-called "Reproductive Health Act" proponents billed as a way to ensure abortion access after Michigan voters enshrined a right to abortions in the state constitution last fall.
"I'm so thrilled to be here today after so many years working on this issue," Whitmer said during a bill signing ceremony in Livonia where supporters wore pink blazers in a conference room dotted with signs reading "bans off our bodies" and "abortion is healthcare is your right."
With her signature, Whitmer removed regulations for clinics that abortion rights advocates characterized as onerous and standing in the way of opening more clinics in Michigan. The legislation she signed also repeals a state law banning higher education institutions' pregnant and parenting services offices from providing referrals for abortion services and a 1931 law criminalizing nurses and doctors who prescribe medication abortion.
Whitmer said she will soon sign a separate measure to eliminate a requirement that those covered by private insurance — or their employers — purchase an optional rider to specifically cover the cost of an abortion.
While Whitmer earlier called on lawmakers to repeal Michigan's 24-hour waiting period for those seeking abortions and a ban on Medicaid funding for the procedure, opposition from state Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, derailed the proposal in the state House where Democrats held only a one-vote majority during the legislative session that ended earlier in the month.
Bill sponsor state Sen. Sarah Anthony who helped lead the legislative effort to pass a Reproductive Health Act said voters spoke loudly and clearly last fall when they passed Proposal 3, the ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights. At the same time, they also elected Democratic majorities without which abortion rights supporters wouldn’t be here today celebrating the signing of the RHA, she said.
But state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, bemoaned that despite Democratic majorities, some restrictions remain on the books. "A Democratic trifecta as it turns out is not a magic wand," she said.
Still, she vowed future legislative action to protect abortion access. Pohutsky sponsored the bill Whitmer plans to sign later that will repeal the "Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act" that bars insurance coverage for abortions without the purchase of an optional rider.
Dr. Sarah Wallett, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, similarly expressed disappointment certain abortion restrictions will remain intact but called the bill signing a "significant" step.
Abortion rights opponents, meanwhile, blasted the package. "This is a dark day in Michigan as the Governor recklessly signs into law a package of bills that present an immediate danger to the health and safety of women and children, including the unborn, in our state," said Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing in a statement. "There is a silver lining. The steadfast leadership of our prolife legislators joined by a common-sense colleague led to keeping in place informed consent, including the 24-hour waiting period, and the barrier against using taxpayer dollars for abortion."
Abortion rights advocates have long called for a Reproductive Health Act, describing it as essential for ensuring that Michigan residents have meaningful access to abortion. "Because 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," said American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Executive Director Loren Khogali during a news briefing in August announcing the group's call for the legislation.
Ahead of the final votes in the state Legislature on the package, Whitmer traveled the state in the fall, holding roundtable discussions to build momentum for its passage. Ultimately, some but not all of what Whitmer asked for landed on her desk. In a joint statement after the House gave final approval to bills, abortion rights groups called Whitsett's refusal to support eliminating a ban on Medicaid coverage and on the 24-hour waiting period for abortion "foolhardy" and said it means "access to abortion care will remain out of reach for too many."
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After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion rights decision in Roe v. Wade, Michigan could have seen a 1931 abortion ban take effect though a lawsuit temporarily blocked that from happening. Voters had the final word, Whitmer said. "Michiganders said, 'oh hell no,' " she said. They approved an amendment to the state constitution to establish a "fundamental right to reproductive freedom," including the right to an abortion.
Jennifer Oresti worked at Planned Parenthood in 2022 when she knocked on voters' doors campaigning for Proposal 3, the ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights. After the election and inspired by the volunteer canvassing, she switched careers, taking her first job in Lansing working in the office of a Democratic state representative. Acknowledging that certain abortion restrictions opposed by abortion rights advocates were ultimately left untouched this legislative session, she still celebrated the passage of the Reproductive Health Act. "Overall, progress is progress," she said.
Editor’s note: This piece has been updated to correct a misspelling of Dr. Sarah Wallett, the chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, and correct a misspelling of Jennifer Oresti.
Contact Clara Hendrickson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-296-5743. Follow her on X, previously called Twitter, @clarajanehen.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer repeals Michigan abortion restrictions