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In Michigan, one restriction is setting back efforts to enshrine abortion rights

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Democrats in Michigan were on the brink of repealing abortion restrictions in the state this week. But after a midnight voting marathon in the state House and one Democratic lawmaker hold out, abortion rights advocates only had a watered-down version of what they wanted. Michigan Radio's Kate Wells explains.

KATE WELLS, BYLINE: If any state seemed perfectly poised to expand abortion rights, it was Michigan. Voters here overwhelmingly passed proposal three last November, enshrining the right to an abortion in the state constitution. Plus, Democrats have control of the state House, the Senate, the governorship for the first time in decades. And Democrats wanted to use this power to remove the abortion restrictions the state still had on the books. Here's Democratic State Representative Laurie Pohutsky.

LAURIE POHUTSKY: So while we have this constitutional right under prop three to reproductive freedom, including abortion, these laws limit access, which makes it very difficult to call it truly a right when it's inaccessible to a number of people across the state.

WELLS: Now, Democrats did manage to repeal some of those abortion restrictions this week. They passed bills allowing private health insurance to cover abortion, and they removed regulatory restrictions on abortion clinics.

POHUTSKY: That being said, all of that is frankly irrelevant for somebody who still can't access abortion care because of that 24-hour delay.

WELLS: Pohutsky is talking about Michigan's mandatory 24-hour waiting period. Here's how it works. If you want to get an abortion in Michigan, you need to first go online to a state website. You need to review information there about parenting and fetal development, and then sign a time-stamped form, which must be generated no less than 24 hours but no more than two weeks before your appointment begins. And if you don't bring that signed, printed form with the right time stamp to your appointment, your appointment can't proceed. Dr. Halley Crissman is an OB-GYN in Ann Arbor, and she says patients get turned away almost every day because they messed up the form, or they just don't have it.

HALLEY CRISSMAN: And so an example from just this week of a patient who presented to clinic the first time from out of state, did not know about the 24-hour consent, did not bring the 24-hour consent with them.

WELLS: That patient ended up having to be rescheduled two more times before they were able to actually get the form, sign it and bring it with them to their appointment. But one Democrat did not want to remove the 24-hour waiting period - State Representative Karen Whitsett of Detroit.

KAREN WHITSETT: I still do not think that 24 hours of a pause to make sure you're making the right decision is too much to ask.

WELLS: Now, Whitsett also opposed a bill to allow Medicaid to cover abortions, and Democrats' majority in the Michigan House is so slim that this one no vote was enough to torpedo those efforts. For Dr. Crissman, the OB-GYN, this is frustrating. She says, with the 24-hour waiting period and the lack of Medicaid coverage it feels like lawmakers are saying...

CRISSMAN: You are a lower-income person or someone on Medicaid working to make ends meet, then your health care doesn't matter.

WELLS: Abortion advocates say they still believe the remaining restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional in Michigan, and they say they plan to find other ways to fight them. For NPR news, I'm Kate Wells in Ann Arbor. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist and co-host of the Michigan Radio and NPR podcast Believed. The series was widely ranked among the best of the year, drawing millions of downloads and numerous awards. She and co-host Lindsey Smith received the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists. Judges described their work as "a haunting and multifaceted account of U.S.A. Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar’s belated arrest and an intimate look at how an army of women – a detective, a prosecutor and survivors – brought down the serial sex offender."