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Whitmer signs pared-down abortion access bills in Michigan

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing the "Reproductive Health Act"
The measures she signed into law — the "Reproductive Health Act" and related bills — repeal a number of abortion restrictions that were enacted by Whitmer’s Republican predecessors. (Bridge photo by Lauren Gibbons)
  • Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed bills repealing a ban on so-called ‘partial-birth abortions’ and lifting other abortion restrictions
  • Legislative efforts to repeal a 24-hour waiting period and allow Medicaid-funded abortions were dropped after Democrat Karen Whitsett publicly opposed those provisions
  • Bill removing a requirement for Michiganders to buy a special rider to have abortion covered by insurance will be signed at a later date

LIVONIA — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday signed legislation to improve abortion access in Michigan, calling the bills a “big step” while acknowledging she’d like to go further. 

The measures she signed into law — the "Reproductive Health Act" and related bills — repeal a number of abortion restrictions that were enacted by Whitmer’s predecessors.


Among them: the state’s so-called “partial-birth abortion” ban that, since 2011, had barred an abortion procedure typically used late in pregnancies; a 1931 law that criminalized prescribing abortion medication; and various regulations and building codes for abortion facilities that have been criticized for making it more difficult to open new clinics.


During a Tuesday press conference, Whitmer said abortion rights took on a new level of urgency since federal abortion protections were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court last year, noting that the legislation builds on other recent efforts by Democrats to repeal politically-motivated restrictions on abortion. 

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

A 2013 law that prohibited insurance companies from covering abortion unless customers paid for an optional “rider;” will be signed at a later date, Whitmer said.

Whitmer — who as a state senator earned national attention for her passionate speech as she voted against the insurance law, dubbed “rape insurance” by critics — told reporters Tuesday she felt that repeal merited a separate conversation, considering her personal connection to the issue. 

Whitmer had initially called for additional abortion restrictions to be lifted, including an existing "informed consent" law that requires a 24-hour waiting period before women can obtain an abortion. She also asked the Legislature to allow the government-funded Medicaid insurance program to pay for abortions. 

The abortion bills were one of Whitmer’s top fall priorities. She argued that Democrats should use their new majorities this year to “protect the freedom to make your own decisions without interference from politicians.”

But House leaders scaled back the legislation following public opposition from Rep. Karen Whitsett. The Detroit Democrat said she supports the right to an abortion, but disagreed that Medicaid funding should be used for the procedure. Whitsett also said she believes it’s “not too much to ask” for people seeking abortions to take time to consider the decision.

In the narrowly divided House, even one Democrat siding with Republicans against a bill prevents leadership from hitting the needed 56-vote majority.

Advocates say the waiting period is unnecessarily cumbersome, especially for people who travel from out of town and may not know about the waiting period until they arrive in Michigan. In those cases, patients have to make arrangements to stay an extra day, which can be costly and delays their care.

The pared-down package of abortion bills ultimately passed the Legislature in a series of party-line votes over uniform opposition from Republicans, who argued that the bills go well beyond what voters approved in a 2022 ballot referendum that added protections for abortion access to the Michigan Constitution.

"Lowering safety standards is not health care," Rep. Angela Rigas, R-Caledonia, said in a House floor speech during debate on the bills. "Reducing inspections is not health care."


Whitmer said she was disappointed that no Republicans voted for the measures, and said she remains committed to removing “arbitrary barriers” that can be life-threatening to those seeking abortions. 

She said she’d like to see the waiting period and Medicaid funding matters addressed in the future but didn’t want to dwell on those issues Tuesday. ”I don't want to take away from today because this is a big step,” she said. 

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, a Livonia Democrat and a key sponsor on the bills, said the legislation “will make a world of difference,” but acknowledged that the changes would be “little comfort” to those whose abortion procedures are delayed or can't pay for one at all.

“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're able to do,” Pohutsky said. “It is my promise right now that we are not done. All they have done is temporarily delayed the inevitable.”

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