A Democratic state representative in Michigan, Karen Whitsett, has said she will not support a slate of pro-abortion bills being pushed by governor and fellow Democrat Gretchen Whitmer, citing her constituents’ wishes and her own support for the state’s 24-hour abortion waiting period. 

Whitsett, who explained to CNA she was a survivor of rape who had an abortion, said she supports the idea of a waiting period for abortions to ensure that women are not being forced to abort their children. 

“I don’t see anything wrong with being asked if you are being coerced into a termination,” she said, explaining why she plans to vote against that provision. 

Since her announcement that she would not support the abortion bills, a coalition of pro-abortion groups have launched a campaign criticizing Whitsett, led by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, a group that characterized Whitsett’s stance a “betrayal.”

Currently in Michigan, abortion is available up until birth, with a waiting period. In November 2022, Michiganders voted to explicitly make abortion a “right” in their state constitution.

A package of 11 bills collectively dubbed the “Reproductive Health Act,” House Bills 4949-59, would put into state law the constitutional language enshrining abortion access and repeal several regulations lawmakers say are in conflict with that access, the Detroit News reported. 

Among the regulations being repealed is the state’s abortion waiting period, a prohibition on partial-birth abortions, a requirement that women seeking an abortion be screened to determine whether they have been coerced to do so, and state requirements to dispose of fetal remains safely and humanely.

Another provision in the bills would repeal Michigan building code regulations that require clinics providing more than 120 surgical abortions a year to be licensed as freestanding surgical outpatient facilities, with mandates related to hallway widths, ceiling heights, and HVAC standards, the Detroit News said. 

The bill package would also require Medicaid to cover abortions for Medicaid recipients. Michigan law currently prohibits the use of Medicaid funding for elective abortions — only covering those related to rape, incest, or the life of the mother — and mandate that private health plans require a rider with an added premium for abortion coverage. 

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Whitsett told CNA that although she considers herself pro-choice, she has heard from many of her constituents in Detroit that they do not support the use of Medicaid funds to pay for abortions, and that she intends to continue “voting the way of the people who elected me.” 

Whitsett said the negotiations related to the abortion bills have “gone 100 miles an hour” and reiterated that although she is a supporter of abortion, “What we’re currently voting on, I have a problem with.” The divided nature of the Michigan House means all 56 Democrats are required to vote in lockstep to approve controversial legislation, unless any Republicans cross the aisle.

The Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC), which advocates for policy in the state, called Whitsett’s refusal to advance the bills a “[sign] of hope that movement on the RHA is slowing down.” 

“The bills that emerged from committee are likely the most extreme policies passed in the recent history of the Legislature due to their blatant prioritization of the abortion industry over women’s health and safety,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the MCC, in a recent statement.

“The Reproductive Health Act would advance an unregulated abortion environment in Michigan, prioritizing the financial, political, and business interests of the abortion industry over the health and safety of women in this state.” 

Whitsett said that as of Monday afternoon, her Democratic colleagues in the House have not contacted her seeking her views on the bills.

“To be attacked because I’m not a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party makes zero sense to me,” she told CNA. 

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At least 17 other states already allow the use of Medicaid funds to pay for elective abortions, despite a federal policy known as the Hyde Amendment prohibiting the use of federal tax dollars to pay for elective abortions. Hyde does not restrict states’ ability to use state tax dollars to pay for abortion, meaning states that want to pay for abortions through their Medicaid program can do so out of their own coffers and not be reimbursed by the federal government.

An analysis by the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency found that the proposed Medicaid provision would increase Michigan’s Medicaid costs by $2 million to $6 million, as “a greater percentage of abortions in this state would be paid for with state funds, rather than nonstate resources.”