The Gongwer Blog

by Alethia Kasben, Managing Editor

Advocates Seek Changes To Parental Consent For Abortion

Posted: May 30, 2023 9:54 AM

A clear message during the 2022 campaign for Proposal 3 creating a right to abortion in the Constitution centered around its lack of impact on parental consent laws, but now advocates want to see changes.

Legislation in previous terms introduced by abortion-rights advocates would have repealed the state's parental consent law. Now that Democrats hold the gavel and slim legislative majorities, it is unclear if they will pursue changes or an outright repeal of the requirement.

Abortion opponents don't want to see the law changed and have released polling they say shows broad support for parental consent laws in the state.

"Rather than push dangerous and unpopular policies that prioritize the abortion industry over women and children, we encourage the Legislature to allocate its time and energy to issues that promote the common good and uphold human dignity," Michigan Catholic Conference Policy Advocate Rebecca Mastee said in a recent statement.

These opponents, including Right to Life of Michigan, also point to supporters of the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign insisting during the 2022 campaign that the constitutional amendment would not invalidate parental consent.

Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said in a recent interview the issue is much more complicated, and not every minor has a trusted adult as their parent. Sometimes there is abuse or incest at play, she said.

"A majority of children and minors have a trusted adult that is their parent," Pohutsky said. "That is not the reality for every minor in this state."

The leader for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which supports a repeal, said foster children in particular get caught up in the legal system since it's harder to get consent from a parent. The group is calling on the Legislature to remove barriers to access.

Current law requires one parent to consent to a minor receiving an abortion with the ability to receive a judicial bypass from a probate court. It dates to 1990 when Right to Life of Michigan collected sufficient signatures from registered voters to put the proposal before the Legislature, which passed the parental consent law to avoid then Governor Jim Blanchard's veto. Blanchard had vetoed a similar bill earlier that session.

In 1990, it was a Democratic-led House that passed the law 61-40. At the time, Democrats who supported abortion rights were floating a proposal that would have allowed other family members, including siblings over the age of 25, aunts or uncles, to provide consent. During that era, there was a sizeable contingent of Democrats opposed to abortion and a bloc of Republicans supportive of the legal right to abortion.

Others have tried to make changes since it originally passed. In 2004, the Republican-led Legislature attempted to make changes around the judicial bypass process, with opponents saying it would make it almost impossible. Former Governor Jennifer Granholm vetoed the bill, and the House twice failed to garner enough votes to override the veto.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan Executive Director Nicole Wells Stallworth in a statement said forced parental consent harms young people in foster care and those who fear abuse or being kicked out of their house if they are pregnant.

Further, she said voters support broad protections for reproductive freedom and want to ensure residents can make decisions about their health and bodies without political interference.

"The Legislature must follow through on this mandate and take action to remove barriers to abortion access," she said in a statement. "Michigan's parental consent requirement is particularly harmful to young people who do not have a safe and supportive parent in their life. At Planned Parenthood, we hear from teens in foster care who do not have contact with their parents and are forced to navigate a complex court system to access abortion. We also hear from young people who are afraid they will face abuse or be kicked out of the house for disclosing their pregnancy. Forced parental consent requirements make it more difficult for these vulnerable young people to access necessary abortion care, leading to delays and greater risks to their health."

Pohutsky is working on legislation to repeal what advocates call "trap laws," which she said limit access to abortion with unnecessary restrictions.

This could include parental consent. Pohutsky noted previous iterations of legislation she has backed repealed the requirement.

However, she said conversations are ongoing to attempt to get all members on board.

"It certainly has an impact," Pohutsky said when asked if repealing the parental consent law would be a tough vote for members in swing districts.

"And that is why education is one of the biggest things we can be doing right now," she said.

Pohutsky said the problem with parental consent is not all minors have a trusted parent they can talk to or from whom they can get consent, especially in the cases of abuse or incest.

"Obviously we want every minor to have a trusted adult to help them go through complicated and sometimes frightening situations," she said.

Further, the judicial bypass process is "incredibly burdensome," she said.

The ACLU of Michigan, part of the coalition that pushed the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment, supports repealing the parental consent law.

"While most young people do talk to a parent when facing a pregnancy, not every young person can. Those who don't feel safe discussing their pregnancy with a parent generally disclose it to another trusted adult," ACLU Communications Director Ann Mullen said. "Forced parental consent harms Michigan young people. Young people should have the support and information they need to make important decisions that are best for their health, lives, and futures."

Mullen noted the American Medical Association, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Society for Adolescent Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose parental consent laws.

An American Academy of Pediatrics statement on the issue says: "adolescents under the age of 18 years of age should have the right to receive legal and confidential medical and surgical abortion care and counseling. The policy statement recommendations have remained consistent since AAP first published them in 1989. Most teens voluntarily involve their parents or trusted adults in decisions regarding pregnancy termination; others are encouraged to do so, if safe and appropriate."

Governor Gretchen Whitmer earlier this month attended a Planned Parenthood lobby day in Lansing where the organization expressed its want for the parental consent law to be repealed, the Michigan Advance reported.

A spokesperson for the governor last week didn't directly answer if Whitmer supports changing or repealing the requirement for parental consent.

"Governor Whitmer believes Michigan needs to be a state where everyone's rights and freedoms are protected," Whitmer Communications Director Bobby Leddy said in a statement. "When the U.S. Supreme Court upended 49 years of precedent, Michiganders faced a draconian law from 1931 outright banning abortion without exception for rape or incest and doctors and nurses faced jail time for simply doing their jobs. That's why Governor Whitmer immediately took action to protect these rights in Michigan using the standard that had been in place under Roe v. Wade for the last 49 years. This is the same standard that the vast majority of Michiganders support, and the governor will continue to stand up for this right."

Earlier this month, the Michigan Catholic Conference released polling it commissioned from Marketing Resource Group that asked voters if they supported a requirement for parents to consent to their minor-aged child having an abortion. The polling indicated 67 percent supported parental consent.

The group also said 63 percent of voters support 24-hour waiting periods and 90 percent support abortion facilities being licensed and inspected for health and safety reasons.

Pohutsky said there are some unnecessary restrictions on abortion facilities, like requiring them to be freestanding clinics that could be among the "trap" laws the Legislature pursues repealing.

"Lawmakers must decide if they stand with a majority of voters who support reasonable guardrails such as parental rights, informed consent, and health and sanitation standards for abortion facilities," Mastee with the Catholic Conference said. "Even pro-choice voters and those who supported Proposal 3 last November have made clear that legislative protections for parents, women and children should remain in place."

Genevieve Marnon with Right to Life of Michigan said the group supports the rights of parents to be involved in their minor child's decision about whether to have abortion.

"The ACLU and Planned Parenthood are at odds with parents and their rights," Marnon said.

With Karamo In Charge, What's Next For The GOP?

Posted: February 26, 2023 8:20 PM

On the first business day new Michigan Republican Party Chair Kristina Karamo was in charge, the phone in the Lansing office went unanswered as speculation builds on what the new leadership will mean for the party apparatus and the GOP in Michigan.

Ms. Karamo struggled to raise any money in her run for secretary of state that ended in a 14-point loss to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The MIGOP under its last iteration of leadership also said significant donors were less likely to contribute to the state party as they did not want to fund candidates chosen by former President Donald Trump. Ms. Karamo was one of those candidates.

The other one, Matt DePerno, lost in a surprising rout earlier this month at the MIGOP's convention. Ms. Karamo took 58 percent of the vote compared to 42 percent for Mr. DePerno.

A key difference between the two candidates is Ms. Karamo never conceded despite her 14-point loss and Mr. DePerno admitted defeat.

"Why would I concede to a fraudulent process," Ms. Karamo said to delegates on February 18.

The only public communication from the party since Ms. Karamo's victory was a tweeted press release the following Tuesday listing the winners at the party's convention and a prepared statement from Ms. Karamo saying the party is "headed to a great start for the 2024 election cycle." The statement promised to provide updates "as we work together to strengthen and embolden our party in the coming days ahead." Since then, there have been a couple more tweets, and Ms. Karamo was scheduled to join two Downriver legislators Sunday at a protest of the disposal of contaminated Ohio soils at a Belleville disposal facility.

Besides the non-answer at the phone line at party headquarters, the state party's website also had yet to be updated as of Sunday, eight days after Ms. Karamo's victory, still showing Ron Weiser, now the former party chair, as chair, and Meshawn Maddock, now the former co-chair, as co-chair.

The status of the Michigan Republican Party as a functioning entity was doubted by several Republican sources with years of working in Michigan Republican politics and the state party itself. These sources said basic functions like paying the bills to keep the party headquarters in Lansing functioning and continuing its biennial Mackinac conference in the fall are in doubt. Others raised questions about handling the accounting and legal needs of the operation without the funds to pay professionals for those activities.

These sources said the party's traditional donors, lambasted as RINOs by the new leaders of the state party, have no interest in funding the party apparatus. One quipped that Ms. Karamo might have run because she saw a chance for a good salary as chair but might not realize she will need to raise the funds to pay herself. It's been known since the election that the state party was short of money and running on a skeleton crew of staff. Whether the party will have the funds to have paid staff going forward also is an open question.

One source said Ms. Karamo and her backers have made it clear they do not want traditional donor support, and will likely get their wish.

"I don't know where she raises any money from," this source said.

Ms. Karamo's victory continues to push the MIGOP in a direction that has seen the party lose all three statewide offices, several congressional races and the majority in both the House and Senate, some Republicans said.

"We went from controlling everything to controlling literally nothing," said Jason Cabel Roe, former executive director of the MIGOP.

Rusty Hills, a Republican operative who has served as a MIGOP chair about 20 years ago, said Michigan Republicans engaged in an experiment in 2022 to nominate every candidate endorsed by Mr. Trump and those candidates lost.

"A party that wants to win is going to nominate common sense conservatives with an appeal to independent and swing voters," Mr. Hills said. "Instead, what happened is the party has doubled down on a strategy that lost them every statewide race and control of the House and the Senate. This is madness."

Among several sources who have spent much of their careers on electing Republicans, they described sadness as Ms. Karamo and what they called a fringe element taking control of the party. But there was also a determined sense to find other outlets to advance Republican candidates and causes.

While several Republicans expressed dismay at the election of Ms. Karamo, many delegates – she of course won the vote of 58 percent of them – expressed confidence in her and cited God in their support of her candidacy.

"Everything was stacked against Kristina Karamo and Malinda Reese Pego, BUT GOD was with us! Yes miracles DO happen," Benj Spencer, a Muskegon County Republican, posted on Facebook. "Thank you Jesus and to YOU be all the glory!"

Mr. Hills said Ms. Karamo and her team are going "to be very, very challenged."

During his time as chair with former Governor John Engler in office, a Republican secretary of state, majority in the congressional delegation and the Legislature, Mr. Hills said there were flush times but still difficult times.

"And that was with all hands on deck," he said.

Now, Republicans don't have as many elected officials as they did then, Mr. Hills said.

"Then you start to antagonize really good people in the donor base (and) you are setting yourself up for failure," he said.

Mr. Roe said it will be very difficult to maintain party operations without the large donors. Just bringing in small donations costs money, he said, whether that is through mail or digital operations.

While Mr. Roe said the strategy for the new leadership is not a winning one, it is not the end of the world for Republicans who want to win in 2024. Then, the GOP will be looking at competitive congressional seats, the open U.S. Senate seat and the Michigan House.

"I think sometimes folks overstate the role of the party," he said. "More than anything it is an accounting mechanism to move federal money to state. … It is a lot easier to organize when you have central organization. We are not going to have that."

But, he said, federal groups and donors will work directly with candidates and the House Republican Campaign Committee. The HRCC in the last cycle appeared to have a fractured relationship with the state party, anyway.

"You are just going to end up taking the MIGOP out of the chain of command," Mr. Roe said. "They are going to be sitting on the sidelines."

Mr. Hills said, though, the state party does make a difference. They get a bulk-mail discount that saves money. Anything candidates are doing in their own operation that the MIGOP could do is a delegation of time and resources that could have been covered by the party.

When he was chair, Mr. Hills said, former Attorney General Mike Cox won his first race by a little over 5,000 votes. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers won a congressional race by a few hundred.

"On the margins, the party makes the difference," he said. "All sorts of things the party does are very hard and very expensive to duplicate."

He also said it puts Republicans at a competitive disadvantage with the Michigan Democratic Party led by "juggernaut" Lavora Barnes, Mr. Hills said.

Among the entities sources said traditional donors might use are the House Republican Campaign Committee, the Republican State Legislative Committee, the Michigan Freedom Fund, the Great Lakes Education Project, among others. One source said new groups are not needed but existing groups will need to do more.

This source also said other states have had to grapple with fringe elements taking control of state parties and Republicans working around them to win elections. This is just new for Michigan, this source said.

Another source said an interesting factor to watch is Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who still lives in Michigan and has made a point to look out for her home state in Republican politics. How Mrs. McDaniel interacts with Ms. Karamo and what she does to direct national support to Michigan – and what entities in Michigan – will be closely watched, this source said.

Moving forward, Mr. Hills said, Republicans need to accept Michigan is a purple state. To win, the GOP needs to put forward "commonsense conservatives," in the mold of former Attorney General Bill Schuette, former Governor Rick Snyder or former U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer.

He said getting a win in the U.S. Senate in 2024 would be key for the right of center Republicans in the state taking control of the party.

"I think it's possible to win," he said.

As to the future and wresting control of the party from the faction that elected Ms. Karamo – the culmination of a 12-year mission of what began as the tea party in the 2010 cycle – several sources said there are discussions but it's early and a daunting task. One source said it will be interesting to see how the newcomers who supplied the energy and votes to elect Ms. Karamo respond if the party withers and suffers major defeats in 2024.

The August 2024 primary will provide the next opportunity to elect new precinct delegates that make up the pool of potential state convention delegates to elect the party chair and nominate candidates for various offices like secretary of state, attorney general and the education boards as well as lieutenant governor. One source said it would take multiple elections for those disturbed at the party's current direction to reverse it.

"It's that far gone," this source said.

Zach Gorchow contributed to this report.

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