Gretchen Whitmer says it “would be good” if Biden was more vocal on abortion


Washington — Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged President Biden to personally speak out about the abortion issue more in an interview Saturday with “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan, suggesting more “blunt language” on the subject “would be helpful.”

Brennan noted that Mr. Biden has previously expressed reservations about abortion because of his Catholic faith, asking, “Does he need to talk about it more?”

“I think it would be good if he did,” Whitmer responded.

The governor added, “I know one tenet of his belief system is that women and only women, with their families and healthcare professionals, are the ones who know what decision is right for them. And that he is fighting and going to continue to fight to make sure that that is squarely the ability of an American woman to make that decision.”

Brennan followed up, “You think he needs to be the messenger on that more?”

“I don’t think it would hurt,” Whitmer replied. “I think people want to know that this is a president that is fighting. And I think he has said that. To use maybe more, you know, blunt language, maybe that would be helpful.”

“Face the Nation” will air more of Brennan’s interview with Whitmer on Sunday, Jan. 21. 

The messaging advice from Whitmer — one of Mr. Biden’s top surrogates, and a co-chair of his re-election bid – underscores the extent to which Democrats are hoping the national debate over abortion rights may affect voter turnout and support in November. Abortion access initiatives will be on the ballot in at least nine states this November, and the issue itself has become a heated topic during the Republican presidential primary.

However, the president is not always enthusiastic when discussing reproductive rights. At a fundraiser this summer, Mr. Biden stated that he’s “not big on abortion,” but “Roe v. Wade got it right.”

Whitmer, a longtime proponent of reproductive rights, seized on abortion as a key issue in the 2022 midterm elections after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and sent the access decision to the states. Michigan voters responded overwhelmingly — passing Proposal 3, a ballot measure to change the state constitution to protect abortion access statewide. Whitmer tied her own reelection bid to the abortion rights referendum and it won her a second term in office over a Trump-endorsed Republican. Democrats also won control of the state legislature.

Following the Dobbs decision, the future of Michiganders’ access to abortion had become an open question. The state had a law on its books since 1931 which made performing an abortion a felony in most cases, and Dobbs provided Michigan the potential opportunity to reinstate that law.

Abortion rights activists in the state fought to include Proposal 3 on the ballot that year. With the passage of Prop 3, the Michigan constitution was amended to keep abortion legal until “viability” of the fetus, invalidating the 1931 law. 

Protecting access to abortion is a major point of focus for the Biden administration as well. Since the Dobbs decision, 21 states have enacted restrictive abortion measures.

CBS News reported this week that the Biden-Harris campaign is preparing to emphasize reproductive rights this week on the 51st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, tying the upcoming election to a “woman’s right to make her own health care decisions — including the very possible reality of a MAGA Republican-led national abortion ban.”

Mr. Biden tapped Whitmer this spring to join his reelection campaign as a co-chair. In the lead-up to the 2020 election, Mr. Biden met with Whitmer to discuss potentially joining the presidential ticket as his vice president.

Whitmer, a rising star in the Democratic party, had been vocal about her views on reproductive rights long before the Dobbs decision. As a state senator early in her career, she took to the state Senate floor in 2013 to give a speech as the legislature was on the verge of passing one of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws at the time — a bill which required Michiganders to buy a separate rider for their health insurance to cover abortion procedures. Critics of the policy called it “rape insurance.”

After beginning her speech, Whitmer went off-script and told the legislature that she was raped while in college. She said she could not imagine how difficult it would have been to deal with an unwanted pregnancy caused by her attacker. Despite her personal plea, the bill was passed.

Last month, Whitmer signed into law the final piece of the Reproductive Health Act. The act, in part, repealed the “rape insurance” policy. 

— Sierra Sanders contributed to this report.


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