Whitmer signs pared-down Reproductive Health Act into law ⋆

Underneath a digital billboard that said, “Today we are taking another bold step forward to ensure Michigan laws reflect Michigan values,” Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed into law bills that repeal several abortion restrictions in Michigan.

The ceremony, held at Schoolcraft College’s Vistatech Center in Livonia, featured dozens of reproductive rights supporters and elected officials, including Lt. Governor Gilchrist, state Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) and Dr. Sarah Wallett, chief Medical operating officer of Planned Parenthood of Michigan.

“Across the nation, the American people are standing up for abortion rights,” said Whitmer. “We’ve seen it again and again. They’ve looked to Michigan because we showed the world. When you speak truth to power, when you fight for the issue and fight for the people, you can win on this issue.”

In her remarks, Anthony also emphasized that point, saying none of them would be there without the grassroots supporters.

“We know that in 2022, the voters, you all, showed up and you showed out,” she said. “We know that you mobilized, you organized, you carried petitions in the rain. You showed up in those funny pink-looking hats on the Capitol lawn, and you made your voices heard. The people of Michigan overwhelmingly passed Proposal Three, sending a loud, clear and strong message that abortion care is health care.”

Proposal 3 wrote into the state constitution the right to reproductive freedom, with nearly 57% of voters providing approval in November 2022.

Anthony also noted the other major change that occurred last November: Democrats winning majorities in both the House and Senate.

“The Democratic majority has prioritized elevating the voices of people,” she said. “Because, you see, many of us were in the Capitol with our voices being muted. We had to share painful stories of rape and incest. We had to elevate awful stories from individuals who were not being listened to in the halls of power. Can you imagine us sitting there introducing bill after bill, knowing that it would never make it to the governor’s desk? But again, you all showed up and showed out.”

Despite full Republican opposition, the scaled-back Reproductive Health Act (RHA) made it through the Legislature earlier this month and repeals several restrictions to reproductive health care, including the removal of some Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, commonly known as TRAP laws, which place requirements of abortion providing facilities. Rural communities, specifically, don’t always meet that threshold. 

“These are politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on hallway width, ceiling height, HVAC system, and janitor’s closets,” said Whitmer. “Yes, you heard me right. These have nothing to do with providing the necessary healthcare. All these restrictions do is increase costs, especially for independent clinics, and decrease the number of providers that are available to Michiganders.”

Whitmer also said the RHA ensures that students at public universities in Michigan have access to accurate information about all the reproductive health options. 

“Young adults deserve the same medical choices that every other patient gets,” she said. “It’s that simple. For too long, you could be denied access to information about your options, including abortion, just depending on where you went to college.”

The legislation also repeals a requirement that individuals purchase a separate insurance rider to pay for abortions, or as critics of the policy called it

“rape insurance.” However, the governor indicated a separate ceremony would be held in the coming weeks for that provision.

What was not included were provisions that included eliminating the mandatory 24-hour waiting period before getting an abortion and allowing Medicaid to cover the cost of an abortion.

Those two measures, which were key priorities for several advocacy groups for abortion access, were cut from the original legislation, after Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) stated she wouldn’t vote for measures that she said allow Medicaid resources to be used for those seeking elective abortions rather than senior citizens living in poverty.

With a 56-54 Democratic majority in the House, and all Republicans opposed, Whitsett was the deciding vote.

Pohutsky referenced the split in her comments prior to the signing.

“A Democratic trifecta, as it turns out, is not a magic wand and one person’s personal politics can still, unfortunately, greatly impact what we are able to do,” she said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist at the signing of the Reproductive Health Act at Schoolcraft College, Nov. 21, 2022 | Jon KIng

Dr. Sarah Wallett at the signing of the Reproductive Health Act at Schoolcraft College, Nov. 21, 2022 | Jon KIng

Rep. Lori Pohutsky at the signing of the Reproductive Health Act at Schoolcraft College, Nov. 21, 2022 | Jon KIng

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs the Reproductive Health Act at Schoolcraft College, Nov. 21, 2022 | Jon KIng

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer after signing the Reproductive Health Act at Schoolcraft College, Nov. 21, 2022 | Jon KIng


Despite those provisions being left behind, Pohutsky told the after the ceremony that what the Legislature accomplished is still a major step forward.

“It’s huge; it’s why I ran for office,” she said. “Repealing TRAP laws that have unfairly and unnecessarily targeted abortion providers is huge. Insurance coverage for private insurers, very, very big. It is really easy, because some things were taken out, to downplay the significance of today and we really, really shouldn’t. What we have been able to get through to today is going to make life better for countless Michiganders.”

Wallett, while also expressing disappointment that the waiting period and Medicaid restrictions remained in place, said she and her colleagues know better than most just how much the RHA did accomplish.

“At Planned Parenthood of Michigan, we feel the impact of these dangerous laws every single day and see firsthand the harm they cause to patients,” she said. “Under current restrictions, our patients are facing growing wait times for appointments, already more than three weeks out in some areas of the state. They’re traveling longer and longer distances to access care. And tragically, far too many are being forced to cancel appointments altogether because as hard as they try, they can’t overcome the logistical or financial barriers in their way and the problems these restrictions cause continue to be compounded by the surge of patients coming to Michigan from other states where abortion is severely restricted or outright banned.”

As for the missing elements, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already said it would continue to advocate for their passage.

“These barriers make abortion care more difficult to access and often have an inequitable impact on Black and brown people, people working to make ends meet, rural residents, and other marginalized people. Our work to remove these barriers can and must continue unabated,” said the organization.

And while it’s unclear how they could pass without Whitsett’s support, Pohutsky says she and fellow Democrats aren’t just giving up.

“I am back at it tomorrow,” she said. “I think that there’s always hope, there’s always reason for optimism. We’re going to continue doing the work behind the scenes to hopefully get it across the finish line next year.”

Whitmer also expressed optimism that the tide on reproductive health care had turned, not just in Michigan, but across the country.

“Just a few weeks ago, my friend in Kentucky, Gov. Andy Beshear, won reelection while being unapologetically pro-choice,” she said and then referred to Ohio voters passing a constitutional amendment to protect abortion and reproductive rights.

“It‘s dangerous to compliment Ohio this week of all weeks,” she said to laughter at her reference to Saturday’s annual rivalry football game between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University. 

“Go Blue,” Whitmer continued. “But hats off to the people of Ohio. Last year, six states, including Kansas, Kentucky, Montana, among others, passed ballot measures that protected abortion access. So, when we engage in this fight, we can win anywhere and everywhere.”

“So today, thanks to all of you, we won,” she said. “We are taking a big step forward. In this week of gratitude, I’m going to be grateful for the Lions. I’m going to be grateful for the Wolverines. I’m going to pray for my Spartans, and I’m going to be grateful to all of you who made this happen. Let’s make history.” 

And with that, Whitmer sat down and signed the bills.

authored by Jon King
First published at https%3A%2F%2Fmichiganadvance.com%2F2023%2F11%2F21%2Fmichigan-has-showed-the-world-whitmer-signs-pared-down-reproductive-health-act-into-law%2F

Comments are closed.