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Dem defection could jeopardize repeal of Michigan abortion restrictions

The Michigan capitol building against a blue and cloudy sky.
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

A Democratic lawmaker dealt abortion rights supporters a surprise Wednesday when she announced she won’t support legislation to repeal many abortion restrictions in Michigan.

Democrats lost a key vote when Representative Karen Whitsett (D-Detroit) opposed the bills in committee. She is the vice chair of the House Health Policy Committee.

Whitsett announced just prior to Wednesday’s committee meeting that she planned to vote against the bills.

“In Health Committee today I will not cast a single vote to allow taxpayer money to fund elective abortions when those same dollars should be used to fulfill our duty to struggling seniors living in poverty,” she said in statement released by her office.

Her specific objection was allowing Medicaid funds for abortion care, she said.

The bills were approved by the committee and sent to the House floor, but it could be a major challenge to win the 56 votes needed to pass a bill in the closely divided House. If no Republicans support the legislation, Democrats would need every member of their caucus to vote for it.

Paula Thornton Greear, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said these laws need to be passed to fulfill the promise of the reproductive rights amendment adopted last year by voters. She called the laws that would be repealed by the new legislation “archaic and unjust.”

“We will never stop fighting for reproductive freedom and access to healthcare until it is fully restored across Michigan,” she said.

Greear also suggested there could be political consequences since the abortion rights amendment on the ballot last year was adopted by a large margin in Whitsett’s Detroit district.

“We’re going to make sure that everyone is aware of the facts about the Reproductive Health Act and where their legislators stand on this issue,” she told Michigan Public Radio.

Amber McCann is the press secretary for House Speaker Joe Tate (D-Detroit). McCann said Whitsett’s opposition is a complication but expects the bills will pass when put up for a vote.

“I think there have been many issues that have come before the House that the Speaker has been successful in getting successful in getting 56 votes for,” she said.

But there is no word on specifically when those votes might take place.

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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