From Roe to reproductive freedom: Michigan's response

Michigan’s Reproductive Health Act clears House Health Policy Committee

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In Michigan, a pivotal legislative proposal has taken center stage with the progression of the Reproductive Health Care Act. This bill, which cleared the House of Representatives' Health Policy Committee Sept. 20. seeks to unravel longstanding laws that have placed restrictions on access to reproductive health care services, particularly abortion, within the state. 

"Today, we took an important step forward on the Reproductive Health Act, commonsense legislation to repeal political motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion that criminalize doctors providing medical care, jack up out of pocket health care costs, and impose needless regulations on health centers," Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement, following the committee approval.

The Reproductive Health Care Act was introduced in the Michigan House on Sept. 6, 2023. The bill is the next step in the state’s plan to ensure abortion access to all. 

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan Legislative Director Merissa Kovach said this bill is to protect and prioritize the health of Michiganders.

“With the introduction of the Reproductive Health Act, Michigan is poised to repeal dozens of these medically unnecessary laws that have nothing to do with health care, and everything to do with politics …” Kovach said. “The voters have mandated lawmakers to protect their right to abortion. Now is the time for our elected leaders to see this through.”

History of the Reproductive Health Act

On June 24, 2022, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – the decades long precedent allowing abortions through people’s fundamental right to privacy under the 14th Amendment. The new ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson, instead leaves abortion regulations up to states to determine. 

Last November, Michiganders voted on Ballot Proposal 22-3, which established the right to reproductive freedom and the right to seek an abortion under the Michigan Constitution. According to the Office of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, the proposal passed by 56% of voters . 

Despite this, many pre-existingabortion restrictions continue to block women from accessing reproductive healthcare in the state such as 24-hour waiting periods for patients and building requirements for abortion facilities. 

According to the ACLU of Michigan, the Reproductive Health Act would repeal many of these restrictions, such as laws that force patients seeking abortion services to delay their care and rules that shut down clinics.

The health act would also allow properly trained practice clinicians to provide abortion care and work to prevent criminal punishments for miscarriages and stillbirths. 

Under the health act, private insurance companies would be allowed to include coverage for all pregnancy-related health care needs, including abortion. Medicaid would also be allowed to cover all pregnancy-related health care, which involves abortion services.

Where do both sides stand?

Governor Gretchen Whitmer expressed her support of the bill package during her “What’s Next Address” on Aug. 30. 

“Slaying our zombie laws was great, but there are still other bad laws that put politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion,” she said. “With a U.S. Supreme Court stripping away basic rights, we must be proactive about repealing these antiquated state laws.”

On the other hand, opponents of the bill package are urging Michiganders to take action by contacting state representatives. 

In a press release sent out on Sept. 7, the Right to Life of Michigan called on the general public to reach out to state legislatures of any political affiliation to vote against the Reproductive Health Act. 

Barbara Listing, the president of Right to Life of Michigan, called out Governor Whitmer for her support of the bill proposals. 

“Governor Whitmer is wildly out of step with Michiganders as she works to push through the most extreme anti-life agenda this state has ever seen,” Listing said. “The Governor is using Proposal 3 as a Trojan horse to remove common-sense provisions meant to protect women and children … as well as basic parental rights.” 

However, Thomas Greitens, public administration faculty member at Central Michigan University, said politically the abortion issue is a win for Democrats.

“The pro-life versus pro-choice issue, along with abortion services, quality of life, and women’s rights, will draw a lot of Democrats to the polls,” he said.

A poll from Emma White Research showed that roughly 46% of voters in Michigan strongly support the Reproductive Health Act, while 31% strongly opposed it. 

Abortions as health care

Mel Bailey, a nurse and midwife, has worked in reproductive, maternal and child health care for over 20 years. She said she has seen first hand how the pre-existing restrictions affect those seeking reproductive healthcare. 

“I definitely assisted, counseled and accompanied women through this process,” Bailey said. “And again have sometimes had to help with funds for them to be able to travel out of town, have a hotel to stay, find child care and compensate for the time that they would have to take off of work.” 

Bailey said she is glad to see lawmakers supporting the bill package to help ensure reproductive health care to Michiganders when they need it.

“As a healthcare provider, it is really important to be able to provide individuals with life-saving procedures,” she said. “Those that are most affected are generally the ones that lack resources to be able to access the care that they need.”

Reproductive health advocacy groups also voiced support of the Michigan Legislature for introducing the act.  

Loren Khogali, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, urged lawmakers in a press release, to pass the act to ensure abortion access to those facing systemic barriers to health care.

“Although abortion is legal in Michigan, it is not accessible to many people who already face systemic barriers to health care,” Khogali said. “We must fulfill the promise of Proposal 3, which guarantees the constitutional right to abortion and all decisions related to reproductive health.

“Abortion is health care, and the voters want this right protected.” 

'Critical for personal autonomy and choice'

Greitens said that this Reproductive Health Act is meant to make abortion services easier to get by getting rid of things like waiting times and standards for surgical facilities. 

A new study by the Guttmacher Institute reveals that legal abortions rose in most states during the first six months of this year compared to 2020. 

According to the study, Michigan saw an increase of roughly 2,560 abortions so far this year.   The New York Times article attributes this rise in abortions to the thousands of women that have crossed state borders to obtain abortions where they are legal. 

“Since so many doctors in the South have left those states, getting an abortion has become practically impossible,” Greitens said. “However, if more people from outside the state move to Michigan, the number of abortions there will rise.”

First-year student Gabriela Andrzejewska said that even Michigan currently suffers from inadequate access to both birth control and safe abortion services. However, Andrzejewska said, the Reproductive Health Act aligns with public health goals of providing equitable, accessible, and safe healthcare for everyone.

“The Reproductive Health Act promises a healthier, more just future for Michigan by ensuring every resident can access the reproductive healthcare they deserve,” Andrzejewska said.

Nabila Jahangir, a health sciences student at Central Michigan University, said that the proposed Reproductive Health Act would empower people of all reproductive ages to make their own healthcare decisions. 

Specifically the act would help vulnerable minority groups obtain access to contraception and overcome stigma surrounding reproductive health, Jahangir said.

“The ability to access birth control at any age is critical for personal autonomy and choice,” she said.