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Pro-abortion lawmakers “race to the bottom” in Michigan

The quick reversal of pro-life policies is a warning to other states

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer before signing legislation to repeal the 1931 abortion ban statute Associated Press/Photo by Carlos Osorio

Pro-abortion lawmakers “race to the bottom” in Michigan

The day after the November 2022 elections, newly elected state Rep. Joseph Fox drove around his district in West Michigan to pick up campaign signs. He had landed a personal victory, defeating his Democratic challenger in his first general election.

But it wasn’t quite the victory Fox or his voters had hoped for. Fox knocked on some supporters’ front doors to thank them, and one elderly woman broke down in tears as they talked. She was crying over the passage of Proposal 3, the ballot measure adding a right to abortion to the state constitution. “It was just a jaw dropper, a surprise for many in our area that it passed,” Fox said. His conservative district voted it down, but statewide the measure passed with almost 57 percent of votes.

Before the fall election, Michigan still had a pro-life law on the books from 1846 that protected unborn babies from abortion in almost all cases. The law didn’t take effect after the overturn of Roe v. Wade in June 2022 allowed states to enact protections for unborn babies, but pro-lifers still hoped that it might someday shut down abortion facilities in the state. Pro-abortion activists thought it might, too. As a Planned Parenthood executive warned in an interview with Politico last fall, hinting at the state’s existing pro-life laws: “Michigan could become Texas.”

The passage of Proposal 3 in November eliminated that possibility, and since then the majority pro-abortion legislature and Michigan’s governor have been walking back Michigan’s pro-life laws. As pro-lifers in the state now focus on exposing the radical pro-abortion agenda of their political opponents, Michigan has become a prototype of what could happen in other states where pro-abortion amendments are heading to ballots in 2023 and 2024.

Proposal 3 wasn’t the only loss for Michigan pro-lifers on Nov. 8. Although Fox’s victory kept the seat in Republican control, Republicans lost the majority they had held in the state House since 2011. They also lost the Senate for the first time since 1984.

“The biggest shock was that we lost majority everywhere,” said Republican Rep. Gina Johnsen, who also won in her district in November. “Therefore, we didn’t have the ability to stop damage from Proposal 3.” She pointed out that the losses went beyond the legislature and included the failure to gain the governor’s seat and replace the pro-abortion attorney general. Michigan, she noted, also has a pro-abortion Supreme Court.

After Proposal 3 took effect in December, officially adding a right to abortion to the state constitution, the majority pro-abortion legislature swiftly repealed the 1846 law. Whitmer held a ceremony marking her signing of the repeal bill on April 5. A month later, she also signed into law a bill requiring employers to treat childbirth and abortion the same in employee health insurance plans and other work benefits like paid family leave.

Now, Whitmer is calling on the legislature to expand abortion even further in the state. In a speech in Lansing on Wednesday, Whitmer listed passage of the Reproductive Health Act as the first item on her fall agenda.

Lawmakers last introduced a version of this bill in 2021. It included a portion revoking existing requirements for women to fill out an informed consent form 24 hours before undergoing an abortion and requiring minors to receive parental consent. It would have eliminated certain construction standards for abortion facilities and ended a requirement that they report the number of abortions they perform. Other statutes the bill would have revoked require women to be examined in person before obtaining the abortion pills and ban partial-birth abortions.

Whitmer hinted at some of these pro-life regulations in her speech, calling them “antiquated” and “bad laws that put politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion.”

“That’s a 180-degree difference from where we were a year ago today,” said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan. “We literally went from one extreme to the exact opposite extreme in the sense of protections for the unborn.”

In this political context, pro-life lawmakers don’t have much of a path forward to protect unborn life. Rep. Fox said he is setting his sights on the next election, hoping Republicans will take back a majority in the House in 2024. For Rep. Johnsen, the losses in November meant that she had to scrap her long list of legislative goals, including those on the life issue. But she said she hopes to gain bipartisan support for a bill granting parents a tax deduction for unborn babies starting at 10 weeks gestation. “Is it likely? No, it’s not likely. But is it possible? Of course it’s possible,” she said. “Anything’s possible.”

Marnon said she’s also playing defense, doing what she can to encourage lawmakers to preserve the state’s remaining pro-life laws. But the governor’s policies also have a silver lining, in her mind. She pointed to Whitmer’s priority of establishing paid family leave, which could be a win for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies. “So, you know, we’re going to nibble around the edges,” she said. “And we’re going to work to find ways that we can help families and moms make a choice for life.”

But she’s not convinced that even voters who supported Proposal 3 will like all of the provisions that could appear in the new Reproductive Health Act. Marnon pointed to recent polling that shows 60 percent of voters who voted yes on Proposal 3 also support parental consent for minors. Sixty-five percent of those voters also support 24-hour waiting periods, and 97 percent support health and safety standards for abortion facilities.

“People really didn’t sign up for all of this,” said Sue Liebel, director of state affairs and Midwest regional director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. She thinks the speed at which pro-abortion lawmakers are changing Michigan’s status into an abortion destination could be a wake-up call to voters. “I think they’ve overplayed their hand by going so quickly,” she said.

Liebel said the Democratic Party’s tendency to “protect the abortion industry and its profits” by not holding abortion facilities to the same standards as medical centers could work in favor of pro-lifers. Liebel said Democrats are handing pro-life politicians their extreme pro-abortion positions “on a silver platter”—positions that she says are out of step with the majority of Americans and that will hopefully result in pro-life victories in future elections.

“I hope that Michigan will be a cautionary tale for other states,” Liebel said. She pointed to similar pro-abortion ballot measures coming to Ohio in November and possibly to states including Missouri, South Dakota, and Arizona in 2024. While each of those states currently has a stronger pro-life presence in state government than Michigan, Liebel pointed out that the same election that resulted in the victory of Proposal 3 also flipped Michigan’s House and Senate. If those states manage to add a right to abortion to their constitutions, pro-abortion groups will push to remove the few checks that remain on the abortion industry, as they have in Michigan.

“If the ballot question passes in Ohio, it’ll—just like Michigan—it’ll be a race to the bottom,” said Liebel.

Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for WORLD News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.


I so appreciate the fly-over picture, and the reminder of God’s faithful sovereignty. —Celina

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