Why Gretchen Whitmer's Bid for Governor Should Be Important to Every Woman

It all comes down to a law enacted in 1931.

Gretchen Whitmer
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In one of the most fierce ideological battles of the November midterm elections, Gretchen Whitmer will face off against Bill Schuette in the Michigan gubernatorial (a.k.a. governor's) race. You'd expect a Schuette victory to be bad for women in the state—just look at his troubling record during the Flint water crisis, not to mention his complete opposition to abortion—but a 1931 law on the books in Michigan could make things much, much worse for the state if the Trump-approved Schuette beat out the Obama-endorsed Whitmer, who also counts Bernie Sanders and NARAL among her endorsees.

It all comes down to an anti-choice law in Michigan enacted well before Roe v. Wade. The 1931 law states clearly that any attempt to cause an abortion, unless the mother's life is in danger, is a felony. It's known as a pre-Roe ban, which many states once had but have repealed in recent years. Michigan, along with eight other states, did not. And it didn't need to, thanks to Roe v. Wade—but if the Supreme Court ruling were ever repealed (more on that in a minute), this would be a huge problem. If Roe v. Wade were repealed, Michigan and its eight counterparts could immediately see abortion become a criminal offense—a felony, in fact.

That's a lot of "what if"s, I know. But, in truth, it's not all that unlikely that Roe v. Wade could be overturned now that Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as SCOTUS' newest judge. Even prior to those triggering, painful sexual assault allegation hearings, pro-choice activists were sounding the alarm about Kavanaugh, whose record indicates he would likely vote to overturn Roe if such a challenge were brought to the nation's highest court. (And you better believe that a whole bunch of anti-choice groups are trying to do just that.) Indeed, some pundits described Roe as dead the moment that Anthony Kennedy set free his SCOTUS seat.

Which brings me to Whitmer. An openly pro-choice candidate for governor, she went so far as to release a plan in July to protect abortion rights in the state if elected. (Schuette's team, on the other hand, made clear to The Detroit News that "as governor he would enforce the laws on the books, just as he does now as attorney general"—in other words, the 1931 law). While nothing would fix the damage done to the country if Roe were overturned, Whitmer as governor would at least be able to negate the damage by getting the 1931 law repealed.

As Whitmer noted in a statement to NARAL after being endorsed by the nonprofit group October: "The stakes in this election couldn’t be higher for Michigan women and families." It's politics-speak, yes, but Whitmer isn't wrong.

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Jenny Hollander
Digital Director

Jenny is the Digital Director at Marie Claire. A graduate of Leeds University, and a native of London, she moved to New York in 2012 to attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She was the first intern at Bustle when it launched in 2013, and spent five years building out its news and politics department. In 2018 she joined Marie Claire, where she held the roles of Deputy Digital Editor and Director of Content Strategy before becoming Digital Director. Working closely with Marie Claire's exceptional editorial, audience, commercial, and e-commerce teams, Jenny oversees the brand's digital arm, with an emphasis on driving readership. When she isn't editing or knee-deep in Google Analytics, you can find Jenny writing about television, celebrities, her lifelong hate of umbrellas, or (most likely) her dog, Captain. In her spare time, she also writes fiction: her first novel, the thriller EVERYONE WHO CAN FORGIVE ME IS DEAD, was published with Minotaur Books (UK) and Little, Brown (US) in February 2024 and became a USA Today bestseller. She has also written extensively about developmental coordination disorder, or dyspraxia, which she was diagnosed with when she was nine. She is currently working on her second novel.