In Michigan, more than 56% of voters supported protecting reproductive rights under the state constitution. | Laina G. Stebbins
The Democratic-led Michigan House on Wednesday passed several abortion rights bills known as the Reproductive Health Act (RHA), leaving behind several elements desired by reproductive health care stakeholders, such as eliminating the 24-hour waiting period for an abortion and allowing Medicaid to be used to cover abortions.
That’s because Democrats, who hold a slim 56-54 majority in the House, had to make big changes in order to get state Rep. Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) on board. Republicans stood unanimously against the bills, making Whitsett the deciding vote to get any parts of the RHA passed.
The package is a top priority for Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who highlighted it in her speech on fall priorities.
Democrats have made the case that the original bills were necessary to ensure the intent of Proposal 3, which voters approved in the November 2022 election, is fulfilled. Proposal 3 created a state constitutional right to reproductive freedom, which includes the right to an abortion.
Despite the bills’ perilous journey on route to a House vote, Democrats during a long Wednesday session secured the votes of their party to pass a pared-down version of the Reproductive Health Act. The legislation now head to the Senate for final approval.
The bills end the requirement of a separate insurance rider to pay for abortions, which critics call “rape insurance,” and the ban on what anti-abortion advocates call “partial-birth” abortion, which is usually the dilation and extraction (D&X) procedure rarely used in late-term pregnancies.
The amended bills also include the removal of some Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, commonly known as TRAP laws, such as a requirement that providers perform at a minimum of 120 abortions annually to meet the same licensing requirements as ambulatory surgical facilities.
The package never included any changes to Michigan’s parental consent law. And in the amended version passed by the House, the provision eliminating the 24-hour waiting period for an abortion was left behind. Planned Parenthood of Michigan says the requirement forces an average of 150 patients each month to have to cancel their appointments every month, because they may have to take off time at work or find transportation, among other reasons.
Medicaid was a holdout issue for Whitsett, who vowed to vote down bills in the package if it was not resolved.
“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 in September on her social media accounts. “The choice is simple – we can either fund essential care for seniors or fund elective abortions. I choose our elders.”
Whitsett garnered criticism from abortion access advocates. Yesterday a joint statement from dozens of groups, including ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, Reproductive Freedom For All Michigan and Progress Michigan released a statement.
“… [W]e condemn the actions of Representative Karen Whitsett, who pushed to remove these key provisions of the Reproductive Health Act. Her actions will perpetuate the harm being done to her constituents and communities across the state and are a direct affront to the change voters demanded when they passed Proposal 3,” the statement said.
What Michigan has right now, isn’t “reproductive freedom,” Planned Parenthood of Michigan Chief Medical Operating Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett said in a statement Wednesday night.
“Every single day, I see patients who have struggled to pull together needed funds because Medicaid won’t cover their care. Every single day, we have to cancel and reschedule appointments because of insignificant clerical errors in state-mandated paperwork,” Wallet said.
Although Wallett said the repeal of TRAP laws are significant and will make it less burdensome for health care providers to provide care, it is “deeply disappointing that some of the worst restrictions that impact her patients will remain on the books.”
However, the passage of the bills was celebrated by a physicians group.
“After anti-abortion politicians in Michigan spent decades putting up barriers to abortion access, Michigan lawmakers have taken critical steps to remove some of these barriers and ensure patients like mine can get access to the care they need,” said Dr. Rob Davidson, executive director of the Committee and an ER physician in West Michigan. “Doctors look forward to our legislators building on this progress until Michigan is a place where everyone has not just the freedom, but also the access, to make their own health care decisions without political interference.”
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