GOP lawmakers inject abortion fight into budget bills

Dems gaveled down for speaking up on abortion rights, reminiscent of ‘Vaginagate’

By: - May 5, 2022 5:39 pm

Bans Off Our Bodies protest in Lansing on May 3, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

The Michigan House and Senate passed a slew of budget bills this week, but not without Democratic pushback on controversial measures included by Republicans lawmakers.

One of the main sticking points for Democrats: Proposed budgets for Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that would greatly restrict abortion access and funding, as well as anti-trans language contained in another budget bill.

A leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week indicated that the court’s GOP majority is likely to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that guarantees the right to safe abortions. Many Republicans have celebrated the draft opinion, while Democrats have made it clear that they intend to fight back on the state level.

That divide trickled into Michigan’s budget process this week.

Under the GOP House plan, state and federal funding would not be allocated to abortion providers and money would be funneled into promoting abortion “alternatives” like childbirth and adoption.

“With the U.S. Supreme Court possibly poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, these investments are even more urgent and necessary. It literally is a matter of life or death,” said House Appropriations Chair Thomas Albert (R-Lowell). 

State Rep. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell), Feb. 9, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

“We are offering a pro-life plan that supports pregnant mothers, including those with crisis pregnancies, and provides them with all their choices — not just the one ‘choice’ promoted by abortion advocates.”

However, Democrats lambasted Republicans’ “extremist political agenda.”

“The health and well-being of all Michiganders is our top priority,” Michigan House Minority Leader Donna Lasinski (D-Scio Twp.) said Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Republicans would rather use this budget to push an extremist political agenda, including restricting access to women’s health care.”

Bobby Leddy, a spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who strongly backs abortion rights, declined to comment on budget negotiations and bills passed so far. He instead deferred to the budget office, which did not return a request for comment.

Senate Appropriations Chair Jim Stamas (R-Midland) said this week that he expects the budget to be completed by late June or early July.

Michigan’s new budget year starts Oct. 1.

House Bill 5784 includes roughly $20 million for marketing and programs that promote childbirth and adoption as alternatives to abortion. It also prohibits using state funds to fund “any elective abortion,” and contains a number of additional measures that restrict health funding around abortion care.

But as state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) noted on Twitter, Republicans are seeking to greatly restrict one of those choices.

One amendment to the DHHS budget would suspend all Medicaid payments unless a measure is passed that removes abortion providers’ licenses. It passed along party lines.

“This is flat-out disgusting. I’m voting no,” Pohutsky tweeted.

Similarly, the Senate version of the DHHS budget bill (SB 828) contains language that would prohibit funding to entities providing elective abortion services, abortion counseling or abortion referrals. Subcontracts with entities that provide those services would also be blocked from receiving state funds.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) attempted to have the language removed from the bill. Her amendment was struck down along party lines.

Whitmer is expected to reject the language in negotiations. She recently brought a lawsuit that she hopes will lead to the Michigan Supreme Court preserving abortion rights in the state, regardless of the fate of Roe v. Wade.

Democratic legislators speaking out against the bills on the floor also faced pushback during their remarks. State Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) was gaveled down Wednesday by state Rep. Pamela Hornberger (R-Chesterfield Twp.) for attempting to speak on the issue.

A similar incident in 2012 occurred when two Democratic former state representatives — also protesting highly restrictive abortion bills pushed by the GOP majority — were barred from speaking on the House floor for a day after speaking about vasectomies and saying the word, “vagina.”

The incident became known as “Vaginagate.” As Senate minority leader, Whitmer then helped organize a reading of “The Vagina Monologues” with playwright V, formerly known as Eve Ensler, on the Capitol lawn.

Lawmakers in the Senate began to pass budget bills Tuesday and finished adopting all 17 on Wednesday. Tuesday in particular was marked by Republicans striking down the vast majority of Democratic amendments, of which there were many.

All 17 Senate budget bills make up a total of $74.2 billion in gross spending. Many bills were adopted along or close to a party-line vote.

The School Aid fund (SB 832) comprises $17.9 billion of that total. Out of nearly a dozen Democratic House amendments put forward, only one was successfully adopted: A measure from state Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) to restore funding for Oxford Community Schools following last year’s mass shooting that left four teenagers dead.

That amendment, which would allocate $6 million to the schools, passed unanimously.

Other failed amendments to the School Aid fund include a measure to increase per-pupil spending by $1,000 and amendments to fund Whitmer’s budget recommendations for special education programs, teacher recruitment initiatives and school safety programs.

At one point, state Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) lauded Republicans for their “attack on poor people and minorities” by rejecting amendments that would have addressed racial disparities in birth outcomes and more.

Senate Democrats offered 57 amendments to the Senate budgets on Tuesday alone. Among those, only eight were adopted.

While Republican senators were pleased with the outcome of the budget bills this week, Democrats and environmentalists also took issue with the lack of funding for environmental protections.

The GOP-led Senate’s proposed budget plans for the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) — Senate bills 839 and 840— are nearly $150 million less than what Whitmer recommended in her budget proposal earlier this year.

“By voting to approve this version of the budget, some of our elected officials are making it clear that they value the wealthy individuals and corporations who fund their political action committees more than making our state a prosperous place for all,” said Mary Brady-Enerson, Michigan director of the Ann Arbor-based Clean Water Action.

The state House met Wednesday and Thursday. Most budget bills were similarly passed along party lines.

As in the Senate, many Democratic House amendments were shot down that would have funded initiatives to combat race-based health disparities, retain and expand the state’s behavioral health care workforce, support jail diversion programs and more.

House Republicans also rejected amendments to House Bill 5783, the “general government” budget, which Democrats say would have protected reproductive freedom.

“These budgets reek of political posturing and point-scoring from top to bottom,” Lasinski said. “We can pass budgets that work for the hardworking families in Michigan — we’ve done it before as a bipartisan body and with the same divided government.

“… But the Republican majority is more interested in cramming these bills with divisive, incendiary language intended to drum up the extremists in their base and those hellbent on stoking a culture war in this country than they are in working to support Michigan’s communities,” Lasinski continued.

lgbt
Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

House Democrats also decried anti-trans language written into the chamber’s School Aid budget plan. House Bill 5795 would revoke a school district’s annual funding if it allowed transgender girls from participating in school sports with their peers.

It is not the first piece of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation proposed by GOP lawmakers this year.

“This is a blatant attack on the very basic rights of all kids and is a cynical maneuver by extremists in our legislature to score political points at the expense of kids,” said Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan.

Albert said in a statement Thursday that the House budget proposal pays down debt, invests in schools and more.

“The old saying goes ‘hope for the best, prepare for the worst’ — this budget plan does both,” Albert said. “It provides what Michiganders need right now to battle inflation, help kids catch up on lost learning, and put families in the best position for success. It also is a financially sound plan that will benefit schools and communities for years to come without burdening our children and grandchildren with massive debt.”

The House plan also sets aside $750,000 in the general government budget for the Legislature to defend MCL 750.14, Michigan’s 1931 abortion law that will spring back into effect if Roe is overturned.

The law bans abortions in the state under all circumstances except to protect the life of the mother.

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Laina G. Stebbins
Laina G. Stebbins

Laina G. Stebbins covers the environment, Native issues and criminal justice for the Advance. A lifelong Michigander, she is a graduate of Michigan State University’s School of Journalism, where she served as Founding Editor of The Tab Michigan State and as a reporter for the Capital News Service. When Laina is not writing or spending time with her cats, she loves art and design, listening to music, playing piano, enjoying good food and being out in nature (especially Up North).

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