Whitmer vetoes funding tied to college pregnancy centers, bans on aborted fetus research

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday made several line item vetoes to the state education budget — amounting to a total of about $6 million in vetoed funding for anti-abortion pregnancy services at higher education campuses and research grants that prohibit funding for stem cell research conducted on aborted fetal tissue. 

In a letter to lawmakers Thursday, Whitmer said some items would "harm women's health care" and others would infringe on constitutional language that give universities control over how they allocate their funding.

"Any efforts to undermine a woman's ability to make her own medical decisions with her trusted health-care provider will earn my disapproval," Whitmer wrote. "Women and doctors should be making health-care decisions — not politicians."

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addresses the audience from the podium inside the Grand Hotel during the Mackinac Policy Conference on Mackinac Island Thursday, June 2, 2022.

The veto of language providing funding for pregnancy services was identical to a line item veto Whitmer made to last year's education budget. 

Rep. Thomas Albert, the Lowell Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, criticized the vetoes Thursday, arguing the governor is only interested in choice when it comes to "the deadly choice that ends a human life."

"Many pregnant women may need assistance to continue work on earning their degrees, and the resources the governor vetoed today would have helped them," Albert said.

Whitmer's Thursday vetoes in the $22.2 billion education budget — which includes about $19.6 billion for K-12 and $2.6 billion for higher education — came after days of negotiations in June between the Democratic governor and Republican-led Legislature. At the time, Capitol sources said some of the language held up negotiations, including abortion restriction boilerplate and bans on boys playing girls sports in schools. The latter was not included in the passed budget. 

Whitmer is expected to sign the second portion of the state's $76 billion budget next week. The general fund portion of the budget funds the remaining state departments and agencies, the governor's office, the Legislature and the judiciary.

Thursday's vetoes came as the Democratic governor and attorney general and Republican-controlled Legislature are locked in a battle over abortion rights in the light of the U.S. Supreme Court's June 24 Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The battle includes litigation over the state's long-dormant abortion ban law, a ballot initiative seeking to enshrine abortion rights in the state Constitution, and executive orders and letters seeking to shore up abortion access in Michigan. The Whitmer administration also has launched a public education campaign on using "Plan B" emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill.

Whitmer's Thursday vetoes include the elimination of about $1 million set aside for "pregnant and parenting student services" at community college and university campuses. She also vetoed accompanying language requiring colleges to assess their use of the funding to determine whether the service offices were meeting goals such as providing health care, family housing, child care, flexible class scheduling and parenting education to pregnant or parenting students.

The language would have allowed the pregnant or parenting student offices to make recommendations regarding care, delivery, foster care, adoption or family planning to students. But it would ban the office from making referrals for abortions. 

"These line items would create a gag rule preventing reproductive health-service providers from even mentioning abortion and otherwise make it harder for women to get the health care they need," Whitmer said. 

Whitmer also vetoed about $5 million to be used for "ethical stem cell/fetal tissue research" that would carry with it a condition that the university refrain from conducting "any research on aborted fetal tissue."

The Michigan Constitution, Whitmer wrote, grants higher education institutions "general supervision of its institution and the control and direction of all expenditures from the institution's funds."

"Any provision that deprives an institution of higher education with the supervisory control and budgetary independence provided by those sections is therefore unconstitutional," Whitmer wrote.

Albert said the language would ensure research was done ethically. 

"I do not understand why the governor is opposed to focusing on proven and promising research methods that do not involve aborted babies or barbaric practices with their remains," Albert said. "Human beings deserve to be treated with dignity — not bought or sold like a basic commodity.”