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Whitmer: Abortion rights will be ‘front and center’ in the 2024 election

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shaped her 2022 gubernatorial reelection campaign around securing abortion access and is now considered one of the leading national voices on the issue.

By Anna Liz Nichols, Michigan Advance - January 19, 2024
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Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer delivers her State of the State address to a joint session of the House and Senate, Jan. 25, 2023, at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis, File)

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer shaped her 2022 gubernatorial reelection campaign around securing abortion access and is now considered one of the leading national voices on the issue.

That’s why President Joe Biden is dispatching Whitmer — a co-chair of his 2024 campaign — to rally voters around Michigan before the 51st anniversary Monday of the now-overturned Roe v. Wade decision. 

“I think abortion rights are going to be very front and center in this campaign,” Whitmer told the Michigan Advance in a phone interview on Thursday.

Whitmer also sought to draw a strong contrast between Biden, who supports abortion rights, and former President Donald Trump, who is currently leading the GOP presidential field and has bragged about his role in overturning Roe v. Wade.

“We know that we have a president [Biden] who has pledged to do everything to restore a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body and her health care versus one [Trump] who is the reason that the Supreme Court was in a position to overturn Roe and is the reason that one out of three women in this country cannot make their own decisions about their their body and their health care and has vowed to sign a national abortion ban,” Whitmer said.

Abortion emerged as a cornerstone issue in Michigan in 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturned the U.S. constitutional right to an abortion. Not only did statewide, congressional and legislative candidates make abortion rights a central part of their campaign message, but voters also decided whether or not to make abortion access a state constitutional right.

Proposal 3 gained the approval of 57% of voters in the November election, while Democrats won total control of state government for the first time in decades.

But now states like Michigan where abortion remains legal are facing new challenges, with many Republicans advocating a national abortion ban. 

“So this continues to be a high stakes moment for American women,” Whitmer said. “We know that even in states like Michigan that have gone from the potential of reverting back 100 years, but actually show when the people get an opportunity to vote they demand and expect these rights. But even here, these rights that we’ve codified are in jeopardy with the prospect of a potential national abortion ban, so it is about all of us and that’s why I’m barnstorming the state this weekend. My lieutenant governor [Garlin Gilchrist] is, as well and we are talking about abortion rights on this anniversary.

Access to mifepristone, a pill that is used in the majority of abortions in the U.S., also is being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, which could threaten abortion access in all states.

The Advance asked Whitmer for more details of her weekend campaign schedule.

“We’re hitting a number of places to engage, to raise voices,” she said. “We learned during the [2022] campaign when we amended our constitution that it’s personal stories that are so powerful and that’s why we’re using all of our tools to continue to make sure that this is front and center for women and our families and voters who thought maybe this was finally secured. It’s still very much I think in jeopardy and very important to stay engaged.”

On Friday morning, Whitmer also is slated to do a Democratic Governors Association call with Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on abortion rights.

The Advance also asked Whitmer about Biden’s polling, her State of the State address next week and rumors of a book deal.

The following are excerpts from the interview:

Michigan Advance: As you have signed several efforts by the Legislature including curbing LGBTQ+ discrimination, create wide scale gun reforms, as well as setting new clean energy standards and repealing Right to Work, you’ve continued to call out to those out of state and young people, saying, ‘You can Make it in Michigan.’ How does abortion access play into that call?

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer: I think it’s really important. I’ve got two daughters who are in college and who are going to be making decisions about where to build their lives. And I can tell you, they and their generation expects certain things. They expect leaders to be doing what they can to combat climate change.

They expect states to fight for their rights and that means the rights of LGBTQ community and women to make their own health care decisions. All of these things are front and center for this young generation of talented Americans who can decide — they can find a job almost anywhere they want to live, but they’re demanding that states recognize them and fight for them and fight for their future and I think that’s why all of these issues are really important. 

This also is a generation that has grown up in … it’s a generation that has been so harmed by gun violence. Growing up with active shooter drills and scary moments that are playing out in this country every day and so, I think that common sense gun violence prevention measures weigh in, as well, and that’s why I think we are so focused on making this a state where every person can see a future, but especially young people who are mobile and looking to build a life.

Michigan Advance: What impact could the U.S. Supreme Court case on abortion pill access have on Michigan even after a majority of Michigan voters decided they wanted the right to an abortion to be a constitutional right for Michiganders?

Whitmer: I think that’s a really important aspect of why we’ve got to continue educating people about this right. [The] last thing I want is anyone in a state like Michigan or another state that has codified these rights, like Ohio, for instance, or what happened in the election in Kentucky or Kansas, I don’t want people to think it’s over. 

A national ban would supersede these rights that we’ve been able to secure at the state level and so it’s absolutely crucial we do not have Donald Trump back in the White House because he has not just created the awful situation that so many American women find themselves in now, but has vowed to sign a national ban and that rip rights away from people in Michigan and across the country.

Michigan Advance: When talking about reproductive health care, you haven’t shied away from sharing your personal experiences, both 10 years ago as Senate minority leader when you told the chamber your story of being a survivor of rape in college and in recent years, the concerns you have as a mother of daughters navigating a post-Dobbs world. You have made national headlines as ‘That woman from Michigan’ and we’re a key battleground state. Do you have any plans to further elevate Michigan’s profile in this and future election cycles, maybe even a book coming out?

Whitmer: Michigan, I think, is always going to be the front and center in national conversations. We are a swing state. We’ve made tremendous, I think, advancements and progress here as Democrats, as fair-minded people who really take our oath to the people and the constitution seriously and I’m proud of that. But there’s no question that this still is a state that I think is a state of independent-minded people who judge the quality of the candidate and ultimately pick the person they think is going to be the one to fight for them. So I do think that Michigan will continue to be elevated and I’m going to do everything I can to make sure of it because our voices matter and they are incredibly important. 

With regard to the possibility of writing a book, I’ve always said I would do that someday and I’ll have more to share when the time is right. But today I am absolutely focused on making sure that reproductive freedom is something that every Michigander and every American can count on.

Michigan Advance: Any truth in the Page Six article saying sources close to the publishing industry say you signed a book deal?

Whitmer: Don’t believe everything you read on Page Six.

Michigan Advance: There’s been some early polling that doesn’t bode well for Biden’s outlook in Michigan. What do you think Michiganders are most valuing in this election and your expectations for whether abortion impacts this or other issues?

Whitmer: It’s always difficult to look at a poll this far out and really figure out what to take away from it. I’ll just share that throughout my reelection, there were polls in the months leading up to my reelect that, you know, people were writing my political obituary thinking that there was going to be a dismal outcome and a midterm with a Democrat in the White House. And I ended up winning by almost 11 points. 

I don’t say that to minimize the seriousness of the moment and the variety of issues that people are concerned about. I just share that as just a little perspective. 

I think that the average person in this country and certainly in the state of Michigan is trying to get ahead. We’re seeing inflation coming down and unemployment down and take-home pay going up, but there’s still, I think, anxiety out there. 

And so at the end of the day, Americans are going to cast their vote upon making an assessment of the two candidates before them. We’ve got one that has worked diligently to help people keep money in their pockets and protect fundamental freedoms and another who is focused on settling scores and a grudge agenda that’s not going to improve anyone’s life. And so I feel at the end of the day, President Biden’s got a powerful story to tell and I think that will carry the day, but there’s certainly important work to do going forward.

Michigan Advance: Coming up on the State of the State address next week, what are some policy initiatives you’ll be pushing for? 

Whitmer: I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to get done, but I think as a state, I will be talking a bit about additional things we can do to lower people’s costs, staying focused on the fundamentals around education and workforce development. We’ve made great strides, but we’ve got more good work to do there. And then a few weeks later, I’ll be introducing the budget that will build on the vision that I’ll share at the State of the State next week.

Michigan Advance: Is there going to be another leather jacket at the State of the State address? Maybe Buffs?

Whitmer: I don’t know yet. You’ll just have to watch it to find out.

This story was originally published in the Michigan Advance


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