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Michigan’s Reproductive Health Act has a questionable future as Democrat objects

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Michigan’s Reproductive Health Act has a questionable future as Democrat objects

Sep 20, 2023 | 3:22 pm ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
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Michigan’s Reproductive Health Act has a questionable future as Democrat objects
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State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit)

Half of the package to repeal remnants of Michigan’s abortion restriction laws known as the Reproductive Health Act, cleared the House Health Policy Committee on Wednesday, with opposition from several members.

Nearly 57% of voters in Michigan voted for Proposal 3 in 2022 to ensure the constitutional right an abortion.

State Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) joined all the Republican members in the committee in opposing the bills, saying earlier on her social media accounts that she has a moral responsibility to ensure Medicaid resources go to vulnerable grandparents first.

“I will not cast a single vote to allow taxpayer money to fund elective abortions when those same dollars should be used to fulfill our duty to struggling seniors living in poverty. Elderly citizens across our state are forced daily to make unthinkable trade-offs just to survive – deciding between food, shelter, or the medications that literally keep them alive,” Whitsett said. “The choice is simple – we can either fund essential care for seniors or fund elective abortions. I choose our elders.”

Without Whitsett’s yes vote when the bills make it to the House floor for a vote, the package could be doomed as Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare) said he has seen no indication that any Republican House members will approve any of the bills in the package. Democrats hold a slim majority in the House 56-54.

Whitmer to call for passage of the ‘Reproductive Health Act’ in Wednesday speech

It would be surprising to see any Republicans breaking party to support any bills in the package, said Amber McCann, press secretary for Michigan House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit), although she’s confident the speaker can get 56 votes.

McCann added that Whitsett was not very vocal beforehand in voicing her concerns with the package and there will be conversations to address her concerns.

“I would say that it’s a false choice to assume that extending full health care to one group somehow diminishes your ability to care for another group of people,” McCann said.

Whitsett’s opposition is a “betrayal to the voters in her district,” Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan President and CEO Paula Thornton Greear said in a statement Wednesday.

“Rep. Karen Whitsett’s opposition to the Reproductive Health Act is a betrayal of her constituents who overwhelmingly support access to abortion,” Greear said. “If Rep. Whitsett votes in opposition, she will be solely responsible for the continued enforcement of dozens of anti-abortion restrictions that disproportionately harm women of color and people who are struggling to make ends meet,” said. 

“Every time a patient is forced to drive 7 hours to access abortion, has to reschedule their appointment over a timestamp, or worries over how they will afford care, Rep. Whitsett will be responsible. We urge Rep. Whitsett to listen to her constituents and pass the Reproductive Health Act.”

This isn’t the first time that Whitsett has broken with her party. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in spring 2020, Whitsett sided with Republicans on a bill capping Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s emergency powers to respond to the pandemic. Whitsett also met with then-President Donald Trump in the White House after contracting COVID and taking hydroxychloroquine. 

Still, all the bills made it through the committee, amid attempts from Republican members to get amendments through to keep some of Michigan’s rules surrounding reproductive health care. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer touted the bills’ passage despite setbacks.

“Today, we took an important step forward on the Reproductive Health Act, commonsense legislation to repeal politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion that criminalize doctors providing medical care, jack up out of pocket health care costs, and impose needless regulations on health centers,” Whitmer said.

Michigan’s Reproductive Health Act has a questionable future as Democrat objects
State Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Flat Rock), Jan. 11, 2023 | Laina G. Stebbins

Among the amendments, Rep. Jamie Thompson (R-Flat Rock) tried to get the committee to leave the 24-hour waiting period for abortions, which HB 4950 would strike out, saying that it is vital to informed consent, to which every patient is entitled.

“This would also allow women to receive information by the state of Michigan. As to the procedure she is having to be able to outweigh the risks and benefits to take a pause for 24 hours to make a decision that not only affects her mentally, but physically,” Thompson said.

House Bills 4950, 4949, 4953, 4954, 4955 and 4956 would affirm the “right to reproductive freedom” outlined in the Michigan Constitution, and tackles other elements of Michigan law that sponsors say put barriers on patients and providers.

The committee did not vote on other bills in the package, HB 4951, 4952, 4957, 4958 and 4959.