America’s Abortion Impasse

EDITORIAL: An odd legislative drama playing out in Michigan this week draws an important distinction between the two parties when it comes to dissenting views on abortion policy.

A pro-abortion protestor, center, uses a megaphone as pro-life demonstrators rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington, D.C.
A pro-abortion protestor, center, uses a megaphone as pro-life demonstrators rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (photo: Alex Brandon / AP)

On an issue of preeminent importance for Catholics — the right to life — it’s clear that the 2024 presidential campaign will again demonstrate just how unbridgeable the divide is between America’s two major political parties.

For the Republicans, the most recent debate, Sept. 27 at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute in Simi Valley, California, only briefly touched on abortion, focusing mainly on the national economy and the country’s deepening immigration crisis. 

But what exchanges took place on stage there and elsewhere on the campaign trail have underscored that while the GOP itself is collectively pro-life, individual candidates have differing opinions over the best policies to protect the unborn. 

While some, including former vice president Mike Pence, support a national 15-week abortion ban, for example, former U.N. ambassador and onetime South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has adopted a more pragmatic tone, not wanting to raise unrealistic hopes of reaching a consensus on abortion in such a hopelessly divided Congress.

Apparently, that’s not how Donald Trump sees it.

In a Sept. 17 interview on Meet the Press, the former president, who is comfortably ahead of the Republican pack in the 2024 race and again chose not to participate in the debates, expressed his view that it was “a terrible thing and a terrible mistake” for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to sign a six-week “heartbeat” law in April.

Trump’s sound bite riled many in the pro-life movement, and rightly so. What’s “terrible” about saving unborn babies? 

DeSantis pounced during the Sept. 27 debate to draw a distinction between his views and Trump’s.

“I reject this idea that pro-lifers are to blame for midterm defeats,” DeSantis began. “The former president … is missing in action tonight. He’s had a lot to say about that. He should be here explaining his comments to try to say that pro-life protections are somehow a terrible thing. I want him to look into the eyes and tell people who have been fighting this fight for a long time.”

DeSantis also made news that night by confirming he supports a 15-week national abortion ban. Trump himself has been coy on that subject. When pressed in the Sept. 17 interview where he made his “terrible thing” remark on whether he’d sign a 15-week abortion ban into law, Trump sidestepped the question.

“I’m not going to say I would or I wouldn’t,” Trump demurred. “I would sit down with both sides and I’d negotiate something and we’ll have peace on that issue for the first time in 52 years,” an apparent reference to the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Trump then predicted that “we will agree to a number of weeks where both sides will be happy” and that “we have to bring the country together on this issue.”

That’s not going to happen. Not in the next four years, anyway. The author of The Art of the Deal is overselling his negotiating prowess if he thinks he can strike any agreement on abortion with the Democratic Party, whose current leadership can’t seem to articulate any restriction they could accept — even a partial-birth abortion ban. It might be easier for Trump to broker a peace accord in Ukraine.

An odd legislative drama playing out in Michigan this week makes this point abundantly clear. And it draws an important distinction between the two parties when it comes to dissenting views on abortion policy.

The context is that, last November, Michigan voters approved Proposal 3, which enshrined abortion “rights” in the state Constitution, with 56% of the vote. It’s among a string of abortion ballot defeats the pro-life movement has suffered since Roe was overturned last year.

In that same election, Democrats won control of the Michigan Legislature for the first time in 40 years. But their majority is razor-slim — just two votes in the House and two in the Senate.

As a first step toward implementing Prop 3, the Democrats this month introduced the Reproductive Health Act. This package of 11 bills would repeal existing state abortion laws that Democrats say aren’t “medically necessary.” They say they aim to make abortion “more accessible, more affordable and safer.”

Under current law, women sign an informed-consent form 24 hours before undergoing an abortion, colleges can’t refer women students to abortion providers, and state Medicaid funds can’t be used to pay for elective abortions.

In addition, abortion providers must meet certain safety protocols and are mandated by the state to provide patients with printed information about adoption and other alternatives to abortion. They’re also required to file a written report if a woman suffers complications or dies because of an abortion. 

All these regulations would disappear if the Democrats’ legislation were passed.

But there’s a catch, one that few people saw coming.

A single Democratic lawmaker, state Rep. Karen Whitsett, objects to several of the act’s provisions. Without her vote, the measure’s sponsors may not have the votes to get it to the desk of Democrat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a leading abortion proponent.

Whitsett would seem to be miscast in the role of pro-life hero in this story. Not only is she pro-choice, but she has also spoken openly about aborting her own child, conceived as a result of a sexual assault.

Whitsett believes safety requirements are necessary for abortion businesses. She also happens to think state funds should not pay for abortion, and that a 24-hour waiting period only makes sense.

 “I do not think it is too much to ask — when someone’s terminating a life — a 24-hour pause to be able to say, for sure, this is the decision you want to make,” she told a Michigan news outlet. 

“It’s not my decision to make that choice for someone,” Whitsett said about her views on abortion. “They deserve to have access and for that access to be healthy and safe, but not funded by the state and not diverting any funds from seniors.” She claims she’s simply representing the will of her constituents in House District 4, which covers sections of western Detroit and Dearborn.

Her broader pro-abortion position isn’t one that Catholics faithful to the teachings of the Church on the sanctity of life can champion. But at least she’s being responsive to the people she represents, rather than marching in lockstep with her party’s radical abortion dictates.

In a recent poll commissioned by the Michigan Catholic Conference, 63% of Michigan voters support a 24-hour waiting period, as do 65% of people who voted for Prop 3. The poll also revealed that 97% of “pro-choice” respondents support health and safety regulations for abortion businesses.

None of that matters to Whitsett’s party and the abortion businesses pushing her party’s abortion agenda.

Michigan Planned Parenthood Advocates, the political advocacy arm of the abortion provider, has listed Whitsett’s phone number and email to encourage voters to contact her, calling her stance a “betrayal” of her constituents.

“Every time someone must drive over 7 hours to access abortion, has to reschedule their appointment over a timestamp, or worries over how they will pay, Rep. Whitsett will be responsible,” the group posted on social media.

“To be attacked because I’m not a rubber stamp for the Democratic Party makes zero sense to me,” Whitsett told CNA, the Register’s sister news agency.

She’s right, though it bears noting that Whitsett has run afoul of her party before this and doesn’t much seem to care. In 2020 the 13th Congressional District Democratic Party Organization voted unanimously to censure her after she praised Trump for advocating hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria medicine she credits with saving her life when she had COVID.

Here’s hoping that Rep. Whitsett can teach her party a lesson about listening to the common sense of their constituents, rather than the other way around.