Since before Roe fell to present day: Where Dixon and Whitmer stand on abortion rights

By: - October 20, 2022 4:17 am

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (left) and GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon (right) | Photos by Getty Images and Andrew Roth

Abortion has been one of the top issues for voters this election season, and the two nominees running for governor have taken starkly different approaches to campaigning on the issue. 

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has centered her support for abortion rights in her campaign, saying repeatedly she is “fighting like hell” against the state’s 91-year-old abortion ban. The governor filed a suit to stop the law from taking effect after the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned Roe v. Wade.

GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon, who opposes abortion rights, has talked about the issue far less than Whitmer in the general election. She did emphasize her endorsement from Right to Life of Michigan during the five-way Republican primary, as well as her opposition to abortion with no exceptions for the mother’s health, rape and incest.

On Nov. 8, Michigan voters also will decide a measure codifying abortion rights in the state Constitution — Proposal 3, know as Reproductive Freedom for All. Polling has shown steady support for the amendment.

During their first debate last week in Grand Rapids, Whitmer said she will be voting for Proposal 3. Although Dixon opposes the measure, she has made the case that Michiganders can vote for both her and Proposal 3. 

Here is a look at where both gubernatorial candidates stand on abortion access in Michigan and how their statements have (or haven’t) changed over time. 

Pro-choice protesters gather at the Supreme Court on May 21, 2019 in Washington, DC. The Alabama abortion law, signed by Gov. Kay Ivey last week, includes no exceptions for cases of rape and incest, outlawing all abortions except when necessary to prevent serious health problems for the woman.| Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer saw the writing on the wall that the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court was likely to overturn the 1973 landmark ruling that federally protected a woman’s right to abortion. 

So in early April, she filed a lawsuit with the Oakland County Circuit Court to recognize the right to an abortion under the state Constitution and repeal the 1931 abortion ban, which prohibits doctors from performing any abortions except to save the life of the “pregnant woman.” The law also carries a four-year felony penalty.

A few weeks after that lawsuit was filed, a leaked draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade was made public, and on June 24 the official ruling was released. 

A temporary injunction in a Planned Parenthood lawsuit, which was filed the same day Whitmer filed her suit, made the 1931 ban unenforceable. 

In August, the state Court of Appeals gave county prosecutors power to enforce Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban, exempting them from the injunction. Whitmer responded by asking the Oakland County Circuit Court for a temporary restraining order on the ban, which Judge Jacob Cunningham granted and ruled to keep in place. 

“The only reason that law is not in effect right now is because of my lawsuit stopping it,” Whitmer said during an Oct. 13 debate against Dixon. “When Roe fell, Mrs. Dixon celebrated that.”

The most profound economic decision a woman will make in the course of her whole lifetime is whether and when to have a child. ... And that’s why this is such an important right for women, and it’s contributed to women being able to participate in the workforce in the numbers that we have been able to in the last 50 years.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer also has argued that abortion is an economic issue. “Women have to be able to make their own health care decisions” in order to attract and retain women to join Michigan’s workforce, she said.

“The most profound economic decision a woman will make in the course of her whole lifetime is whether and when to have a child,” the Democratic governor told the Advance in a June interview. “… Whether it is a collective economy or it is a woman and her family’s individual family economy, there will be a profound impact. And that’s why this is such an important right for women, and it’s contributed to women being able to participate in the workforce in the numbers that we have been able to in the last 50 years.”

Whitmer, who has been endorsed by NARAL Pro-Choice America, has been a longtime supporter of abortion rights as a state House member and senator before she was elected governor. 

When Whitmer was Senate minority leader in 2013, she opened up on the Senate floor with an emotional story about being a rape survivor to try to block an anti-abortion bill. The GOP-led Legislature passed the bill, but Whitmer’s speech made national news.

Whitmer has also talked about how as a mom she is concerned that her daughters, who are students at University of Michigan, have less rights than she had at their age.

“I am horrified, as are so many women who are 50 years old, or in my generation, that the thought that my daughters will have fewer rights than I’ve had virtually my whole life,” Whitmer told “Face the Nation” in June.

GOP nominee Tudor Dixon  

When the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision came out in June overturning Roe v. Wade, Dixon issued a statement in favor of the ruling.

“Today is not just a day for celebration as it is an affirmation that life is precious, but it is a day for action,” Dixon said. 

In early June, Dixon secured the Right to Life endorsement, which only goes to candidates who believe in banning abortion in all circumstances, except to protect the life of the mother.

Dixon has said in several interviews that she doesn’t support exceptions for rape or incest. Asked during a July interview with Detroit podcaster Charlie LeDuff, Dixon said she would not support a 14-year-old girl who was raped by her uncle to be able to get an abortion, saying it was the “perfect example.”

She has also reiterated her position on FOX-2 in August after winning the GOP primary that she doesn’t support teenage rape victims having the right to get abortions.

“I’ve talked to those people who were the child of a rape victim and the bond that those two people made,” Dixon said. “And the fact that out of that tragedy, there was healing through that baby. It’s something that we don’t think about because we assume that that story is someone who was taken from the front yard then returned. That’s generally not the story there. And those voices, the babies of rape victims that have come forward, are very powerful when you hear their story and what the truth is behind that. It’s very hard to not stand up for those people.”

Today is not just a day for celebration as it is an affirmation that life is precious, but it is a day for action.

– GOP gubernatorial nominee Tudor Dixon when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade

During the debate with Whitmer last week, Dixon denied that she has ever said the she wants to “criminalize people” or “make this [abortion] a felony.” 

However, at a GOP debate in Livingston County in May, Dixon called the 1931 abortion ban a “good law.” That law would make performing an abortion a felony in Michigan for doctors and those who use medication for self-abortion. 

Dixon has tried not to focus on abortion rights in the general election and has said it’s not one of the “biggest issues” she is campaigning on.

She also has tried to appeal to voters who support Proposal 3.

During a press conference last month in front of the Michigan Department of Education, Dixon told reporters “the ballot initiative for the constitutional amendment aligns with what Gretchen Whitmer wants. So yes, you can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s position without having to vote for Gretchen Whitmer again.”

During the debate in Grand Rapids, Dixon said she would accept the results of Proposal 3. Whitmer called that “really ironic.” 

“For her to stand there and say she will respect the will of the people when she has not even embraced the outcome of the last election or pledged to embrace the outcome of the future election tells me we cannot trust what she is saying,” Whitmer said.

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers 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. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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