Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion move highlights Democrats’ 2024 push

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday repealed a state law that required women to have a separate rider on their insurance plans for abortion coverage.

It’s the latest in a string of moves the Democrat has made on the issue in the battleground state after voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution last year following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

And it demonstrates how issues beyond sweeping restrictions or legalizations of the procedure continue to be at the forefront in key states ahead of the 2024 election, when abortion is set to be at the center of the campaign.

The controversial measure the governor repealed Monday was dubbed “rape insurance” by activists and some Democrats in 2013, when Whitmer spoke against the measure as the minority leader in the state Senate.

“Ten years is a long time, but to be here today, to know that I can get rid of this rape insurance law that has created yet another barrier for women in Michigan to getting — to having real reproductive freedom, it’s really a remarkable moment,” Whitmer told NBC News on Monday, minutes before she signed the law repealing the special insurance requirement.

“When you listen to the people, when you’re bold, when you stay in the fight, you can win,” she added.

Whitmer’s focus on abortion rights comes as Democrats have found continued success running on the issue across the country. Whitmer won re-election in 2022 running alongside a Michigan ballot measure to put abortion rights in the state constitution. And the governor warned of Republicans’ “backward” views on the issue heading into the 2024 election cycle.

“You look at the new speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and how backward his positions are. He’s the top Republican in this country,” Whitmer said.

“You listen to what all the Republican candidates for president say on that stage. Sure, some of them might say it in a way that seems a little nicer or softer, but the fact of the matter is, every one of them has vowed to sign a national abortion ban,” she added.

But Democrats’ success emphasizing abortion rights has not translated into a wave of support for President Joe Biden’s re-election bid. His strategy on abortion policy has faced criticism, and his campaign has been slow to staff up in battleground states, like Michigan.

A CNN poll released Monday found Biden trailing former President Donald Trump by 10 points in a general election matchup in Michigan.

Whitmer, who has given her full-throated support to Biden, brushed off some of the concerns.

“We’re a year out. I always remind people a year out from my [gubernatorial] re-election, a lot of people were writing my political obituary … and so until there’s a matchup, we’re gonna see polls that say one thing or another,” she said.

“At the end of the day, Americans are smart, they’re pragmatic and they’re going to vote for leaders who actually care about them and are delivering for them, and are protecting this democracy — and that describes President Biden,” Whitmer added.

Biden is also facing headwinds in his own party over the Israel-Hamas war. Muslim Americans in Michigan and other key swing states have threatened to vote for a third-party candidate or stay home in 2024.

Whitmer highlighted the complexity of the issue, but expressed confidence in Biden’s ability to win back disaffected voters.

“These geopolitical issues are taking a toll and so I do worry about how people are feeling and mourning and concerned for their loved ones,” she said.

“I don’t think anyone should be taken for granted. I certainly am really focused on getting into all 83 counties in the state. I think it’s important to listen and to show up for people and I think when the president does that, no one’s better at it,” she added.

Whitmer also weighed in on the Capitol Hill hearing with several university presidents last week. An exchange between the three university presidents and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., went viral. Stefanik asked whether “calling for the genocide of Jews” would violate the codes of conduct at the three institutions — the University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

All three presidents did not give a direct answer, resulting in widespread criticism across the political spectrum.

“I thought that the hearings in D.C. were appalling and shocking,” Whitmer said. “I know that there are many types of conversations happening on campuses and campuses should be places where there should be conversation and debate. But I think they should also be very clear what is hate speech is not protected.”

Whitmer has also faced calls to run for president herself, whether now or in 2028. But Whitmer dodged questions on the subject Monday, saying she’s focused on serving her second term as governor.

“I know that I will always stay very focused on lending my voice and being a part of a solution. But, I am not sitting in any rooms plotting beyond the next three years. I’m gonna keep my eye on the ball right here in Michigan,” she said.