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Michigan House axes some abortion limits; can’t get votes to end 24-hour wait

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and abortion rights groups had called on the Legislature to pass a more expansive version of the “Reproductive Health Act." (ehrlif /
  • In party-line votes, the House passes scaled-back abortion access plan, leaving 24-hour wait period in place
  • A lone Democrat blocked broader legislation backed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and abortion rights advocates
  • The plan would repeal a ban on ‘partial birth abortions’ and axe a requirement to pay extra for abortion insurance coverage

Nov. 7: ‘Watered-down’ version of bills repealing abortion restrictions head to Whitmer

LANSING — Michigan House Democrats voted late Wednesday to lift several abortion restrictions but fell short on votes to repeal a 24-hour wait period law that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer had called on them to axe.

A narrowly tailored version of the "Reproductive Health Act" passed in a series of party-line votes over uniform opposition from Republicans. The plan now returns to the Senate, where majority Democrats approved a prior version last month.

The House legislation would repeal: a 2013 law that prohibits insurance companies from covering abortion unless customers pay extra for an optional “rider;” the state’s so-called partial birth abortion ban that generally bars late-term procedures; and various regulations and building codes for abortion facilities criticized for making it hard to open new clinics.


House leaders scaled back the legislation amid public opposition from Rep. Karen Whitsett, a Detroit Democrat, who had made clear she supports an existing "informed consent" law that requires a 24-hour wait period before women can obtain an abortion. 

Democrats, who need every House vote to pass bills because of their two-seat majority, had already dropped another key provision of the original Whitmer-backed package that would have allowed the government-funded Medicaid insurance program to pay for abortions. 

"At the end of the day, the call was made to get as much done as we possibly could," sponsoring Rep. Laurie Pohutksy, D-Livonia, told reporters after voting concluded shortly before midnight Wednesday. 

Nonetheless, the package would eliminate several "onerous, politically motivated and medically unnecessary laws that were put in place... with the express purpose of limiting access to abortion," Pohutsky said.

Republicans blasted the proposal during a tense floor debate marked by occasional shouting from their members, who likened abortion to murder and had supported strict restrictions during their 12-year control of the House that ended in January. 

"Lowering safety standards is not health care," said Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia. "Reducing inspections is not health care."

Whitmer had called on Michigan lawmakers to pass a more expansive version of the package as one of her top fall priorities, arguing Democrats should use their new majorities to “protect the freedom to make your own decisions without interference from politicians.”

A coalition of abortion rights groups called the revised House package an "incremental improvement" for access and blasted Whitsett. 

The result is a “watered-down version of the Reproductive Health Act that lacks key policy reforms that are both desperately needed and widely supported by voters across the state," said a coalition statement from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Michigan and other groups. 

“We will not stop until barriers to abortion access are removed,” they added.

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