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Whitmer signs bill repealing abortion insurance law she fought against a decade ago

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Whitmer signs bill repealing abortion insurance law she fought against a decade ago

Dec 11, 2023 | 2:10 pm ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
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Whitmer signs bill repealing abortion insurance law she fought against a decade ago
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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks in Lansing ahead of signing the last bill in the Reproductive Health Act on Dec. 11, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)

It’s been 10 years, to the day, since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gave a speech as Senate minority leader in an effort to stop Senate Republicans from passing restrictions on health insurance coverage under which individuals would have to purchase a separate insurance rider. Whitmer and other critics slammed it as “rape insurance.”

“I took to the podium and put aside my prepared remarks and shared the story that I had only told a handful of people,” Whitmer said at a news conference Monday at the Capitol. “I talked about the time that I was raped when I was in college.”

And although it was a low moment for Whitmer, who said she felt despondent knowing that she had not changed anyone’s minds — and she would have to call her dad to warn him about what would be in the newspapers — she said she knew the fight wasn’t over.

On Monday, Whitmer signed the final bill in the Reproductive Health Act, House Bill 4949, which repeals the health insurance restrictions among other reforms. The package altogether removes some Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, commonly known as TRAP laws, amongst other measures.

Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022, Whitmer said the fight to save reproductive freedom went into overdrive. Since then, several victories in that fight have been won in Michigan and other states.

In November 2022, voters approved Proposal 3, which codified the right to abortion in Michigan’s constitution. In April, Whitmer signed a repeal of a 1931 law Michigan had on the books banning abortion.

And although Whitmer said her sexual assault in college didn’t result in a pregnancy, the idea that someone else could be in her position did not sit well with her.

“The moral of this story is don’t stop fighting for what you know is right,” Whitmer said. “There’s a warning in the story, too, [to] anyone who wants to roll back our rights: Don’t mess with American women; we’re tough and we fight back and we will win. You come for our rights and we will work harder to protect them.” 

Whitmer added that although it meant a lot to repeal a law she had long fought against, today is not about her, but about every woman in Michigan.

The stories of survivors are valuable, but it shouldn’t take women revealing the painful events of their past to make progress, bill sponsor Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said at the news conference. She said she has regrets about making a speech similar to Whitmer’s when she was in her first term, recounting her own rape and subsequent pregnancy scare.

“I wish I had actually never given that speech at all. Not because it was personally painful, which it was, but because it made the wrong point. Trauma is not a requirement for bodily autonomy. Each person’s reason for getting an abortion is personal and valid and everyone is deserving of the ability to make their own decisions about their pregnancy,” Pohutsky said. “I long for a day where female elected officials do not have to open up their wounds on the chamber floor to appeal to the humanity of our colleagues.”

Whitmer signs bill repealing abortion insurance law she fought against a decade ago
Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) speaks ahead of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signing the last bill in the Reproductive Health Act in Lansing on Dec. 11, 2023. (Photo: Anna Liz Nichols)