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State House rejects putting abortion rights in budget bills

A split photo of two protests--one against abortion rights and one for. On the left, someone in a pink coat and purple hat holds a red sign that says "Let Their Hearts Beat" in black and white lettering and on the right, an arm holds up a white sign that says "Protect safe, legal abortion" in handwritten pink block letters
Maria Oswalt/Gayatri Malhotra
With the U.S. Supreme Court expected to reverse, or at least roll back, the rights protected by Roe v. Wade, Michigan activists on both sides of the debate are gearing up for a statewide fight this election year.

Abortion rights and the future of the Roe v. Wade decision played a big part in a marathon budget debate Thursday in the Michigan House.

Democrats tried to force votes on amendments to preserve abortion access regardless of the outcome of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could reinstate Michigan’s dormant law criminalizing abortion. It’s one of the strictest in the country with no exceptions for rape or incest.

Democrats’ efforts to repeal the ban have failed. So Democratic legislators, including Representative Laurie Pohutsky, called for financial assistance to help women travel to states where abortion would remain legal, and to help pay the legal costs of patients and clinics that face prosecution.

“Accessing and providing health care is not a crime,” she said.

“The sudden scuttling of a right that people have had for nearly 50 years and replacing it with a nearly century-old law that criminalizes a safe and common medical procedure will undoubtedly leave many patients in a perilous position while forcing providers to first do no harm or to avoid prosecution. If this body is going to insist on putting people in that position, then we owe it to them to provide a legal defense,” she said.

Republican budget language, on the other hand, would deny Medicaid funds to medical facilities that offer abortion services.

Representative Thomas Albert, the House Appropriations Committee chair, said the Republican budget promotes alternatives that don’t include abortion.

“What I’m pushing for actually is choice,” he said. “I want to have options for women that are facing crisis pregnancies. I mean, many women don’t realize they have the option to put their child up for adoption if they’re not able to care for the child.”

Democrats said that’s not a realistic option for many pregnant people — particularly those who are pregnant as a result of rape or who face serious health threats from a pregnancy. Democrats said access to abortion is a crucial part of health care.

Adopting these bills is an early stage of the budget process, and negotiations will continue as they head to the Senate.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer, an ardent abortion rights supporter, could also use her line-item veto power on abortion restrictions in budget bills that reach her desk.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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