Gov. backs Reproductive Health Act to repeal anti-abortion laws

By: - October 29, 2019 2:56 pm

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces her support for the Reproductive Health Act, Oct. 29, 2019 | Allison Donahue

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Tuesday announced a legislative package to repeal current restrictive reproductive health statutes and add more protections for women’s health. 

“When it comes to making decisions on reproductive health care in Michigan, a woman’s decision should be based on medical facts, not political rhetoric or ideology,” Whitmer said at a morning press conference. 

The omnibus Reproductive Health Act, sponsored by state Rep. Kristy Pagan (D-Canton), would regulate abortion to the same standards of other kinds of health care by repealing or updating 10 current laws.

In May, both the state House and Senate passed bills that banned dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions, making it a two-year felony for a physician to perform one.

“There is certainly no woman’s right to choose here in Michigan,” Whitmer said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We have already passed bills to ban a safe procedure that has saved lives. And, as they know, I am going to veto those bills if they ever have the backbone to send them to my desk.”

A petition banning D&E abortions, brought by Right to Life of Michigan, needs just over 340,000 signatures to go before the GOP-led Legislature, which is expected to adopt it if that occurs. Under Michigan law, the governor is not able to veto the legislation when brought to a vote by a citizen-led petition. 

According to a Right to Life press release on Sept. 30, the group has collected over 200,000 signatures. Signature collection began on June 26, and the 180-day collection period ends Dec. 23.

Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based nonprofit research and policy organization focused on reproductive health and rights, outlines  a number of Michigan’s restrictive legislation on abortion, which include:

  • All patients seeking abortions must recieve state-mandated anti-abortion information packets 
  • All patients seeking abortions must wait 24-hours after recieving information packet before the procedure is provided
  • Private insurance policies, insurance policies for public employees and health plans offered through the Affordable Care Act only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment, unless individuals purchase optional coverage
  • Parents of minors must consent before an abortion is provided
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest
  • An abortion may be performed at or after viability only if the patient’s life is endangered
  • The state requires abortion clinics to meet unnecessary and burdensome standards related to their physical plant, equipment and staffing

In addition to Pagan’s proposed bill, six companion bills would further update current state law to comply with the RHA.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announces her support for the Reproductive Health Act, Oct. 29, 2019 | Allison Donahue

The companion bills are sponsored by state Reps. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp.), Rebekah Warren (D-Ann Arbor), Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids) and Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit).

A Senate RHA package, sponsored by state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), mirroring the House package also will be introduced.

Companion sponsors for the Senate omnibus are Sens. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills), Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and Betty Jean Alexander (D-Detroit).

Rep. Kristy Pagan at the Reproductive Health Act press conference, Oct. 29, 2019 | Allison Donahue

“We are well aware of the anti-choice nature of the Legislature,” Pagan said about the GOP-led House and Senate. “This is a step in the right direction. The Michigan Reproductive Health Act is a proactive approach.”

At a Planned Parenthood summit in April, Attorney General Dana Nessel said she believes the U.S. Supreme Court likely will overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 legislation that legalized abortions. She also stated that if the landmark leglislation were to be overturned, she would not prosecute anyone seeking an abortion under the state’s 1931 abortion ban that would go back into effect.

“Women’s reproductive rights and access to quality health care are under attack across the country. Now, more than ever, we must take concrete steps to ensure the rights of all women are protected under the law,” Nessel said in a statement following the RHA announcement Tuesday.

The bill is supported by a number of nonprofit advocacy groups, such as Planned Parenthood of Michigan, American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Progress Michigan. Not surprisingly, Right to Life is opposed.

“Abortion is a civil right that is critical to health care and has no place in politics,” said Dave Noble, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan. “We are grateful to the Michigan lawmakers who are working diligently to remove unnecessary barriers to abortion, and for striving to ensure that everyone can make their own medical decisions.”

Sarah Wallett of Planned Parenthood at the Reproductive Health Act press conference, Oct. 29, 2019 | Allison Donahue

Sarah Wallett, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, spoke on behalf of the organization and the medical field as a whole at Tuesday’s press conference.

“Michigan needs to commit to all of us, doctors and patients alike, that reproductive health care, like cardiology, sports medicine and pediatrics, will not be dictated by politicians,” Wallett said. “Doctors like me, who hold themselves to a code of ethics that puts the health, autonomy and dignity of our patients first, we demand it.”

Other states that have passed the RHA and adopted it into law are Rhode Island, Vermont, Illinois, New York and Oregon. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8.