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Abortion access in Michigan, two years after Dobbs

Those for and against abortion gathered at the University of Michigan in May 2022.
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
Those for and against abortion gathered at the University of Michigan in May 2022.

Two years after the US Supreme Court eliminated the right to abortion in the Dobbs decision, Michigan has some of the broadest reproductive rights in the nation enshrined in its state Constitution. At least, on paper.

Since voters passed Proposal 3 in 2022, the fight has shifted to: What do those rights actually mean? Which abortion restrictions will remain on the books? And what should a patient have to do in order to access an abortion in Michigan?

Democrats overturned some, but not all, remaining abortion restrictions 

For instance, despite having control of the state House, Senate and governorship last year for the first time in decades, Democrats couldn’t get enough votes from their own party to repeal some of the biggest abortion restrictions that are still on the books.

Patients are still banned from using their state Medicaid coverage for an abortion, and there’s still a 24-hour mandatory waiting period and required informed consent form. About 150 patients have to cancel or reschedule their appointments each month, because they made a mistake with those forms, according to Planned Parenthood of Michigan.

“Michiganders have worked tirelessly to protect and expand reproductive freedoms these past two years, and it has made a real difference in the lives of my patients,” Dr. Sarah Wallett, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said in an emailed statement.

“Yet despite all of our progress, every day I am forced by state law to turn patients away if they forget to print and bring a timestamped form to their abortion appointments. I still have to read to my patients biased, one-size-fits-all, state-mandated information from the state that’s designed to dissuade them from having an abortion.”

Since Dobbs, the number of out-of-state patients coming to PPMI has tripled. That’s causing delays in care, she said. Abortion rights advocates have filed a suit seeking to overturn the 24-hour mandatory waiting period and informed consent form. It would also repeal a requirement that only physicians (and not other advanced care practitioners, like nurse practitioners) can perform abortions in Michigan.

The Planned Parenthood in Ann Arbor.
Beth Weiler/Michigan Radio
Planned Parenthood's Power Family Health Center in Ann Arbor. The number of out-of-state patients to Planned Parenthood of Michigan has tripled since Dobbs.

Democrats did succeed in removing some restrictions in 2023. That includes allowing private insurance to cover abortion, and repealing extensive facility regulations that providers said were intended to shut clinics down and limit new ones from opening. (That allowed Planned Parenthood of Michigan to begin providing procedural abortions at its Grand Rapids clinic earlier this year, after the closure of the only other clinic in the city that was offering them.)

Looming debates over parental consent, IVF

Meanwhile, abortion opponents in the state have sued to overturn Prop 3, and say they will fight any future efforts to repeal additional restrictions.

In a statement marking the Dobbs anniversary, Right to Life of Michigan President Amber Roseboom said “there is no getting around the fact that we’ve had a tough couple of years, with voters securing a sweeping ‘right’ to abortion in the state Constitution. In this moment, it is important to remember that reproduction and abortion are not issues of any political party. They are and have always been decisions of the woman.”

Repealing the clinic restrictions has only made abortion patients less safe, Roseboom said. Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Democrats “eliminated transparency for the abortion industry by striking abortion reporting from law…Then, after failing to remove Informed Consent and the 24-Hour Waiting Period in the legislative process, they have appealed to the courts. Next, we know they want to remove parental consent for abortion.”

Michigan’s parental consent law requires a minor to have a consent form signed by a parent or guardian, or get a judicial waiver from the courts. Its repeal wasn’t included in the 2023 version of the Reproductive Health Act, though it had been in earlier versions. And abortion opponents say parental consent has broad support among voters.

But in March, several abortion rights advocacy groups, including the ACLU of Michigan, issued a reportaimed at overturning it. Governor Gretchen Whitmer seemed to voice support for repealing the parental consent law. “I can tell you it was a part of the original package, and I was advocating for the whole package to get to my desk,” she told Michigan Public’s Stateside.

But abortion opponents in Michigan say they’re not pushing to overturn IVF, following an Alabama Supreme Court ruling that frozen embryos should be considered children, and the Southern Baptists Convention voting to oppose IVF earlier this month. Asked whether Right to Life of Michigan views embryos as children, Roseboom said the group “does not have policy on IVF as a practice. Many couples struggle with the difficulty of infertility, and Right to Life of Michigan supports their efforts to grow their families in an ethical way that values each and every human life.”

“IVF is not at risk in Michigan,” Roseboom said via email. “IVF has been operating in Michigan since the 70s, and there is no threat to it. Any suggestion otherwise is an election year scare tactic conjured up by Democrats desperate to turn out their base in November.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.