Michigan ballot initiative seeks to guarantee abortion rights after Roe v. Wade decision
Organizers of a ballot initiative to enshrine the right to an abortion in Michigan's Constitution said they were on track to put the measure before voters this November after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the court's 1973 ruling guaranteeing abortion rights under the U.S. Constitution.
"In Michigan, abortion remains legal for now," said Loren Khogali, the executive director for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan, referring to an order issued by a Michigan judge in May temporarily blocking the enforcement of a 1931 state law on the books banning abortions, including in cases of rape and incest. The state law includes an exception for abortions "necessary to preserve the life of (any pregnant woman)."
"Amending the state constitution would provide the most enduring protection to abortion and to reproductive freedom," Khogali said during a news briefing Friday held by organizers of the effort. The ACLU of Michigan has partnered with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and the nonprofit Michigan Voices to put the Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment on the November ballot.
"These next couple weeks are critical," Khogali said. Organizers of the ballot initiative must collect at least 425,059 signatures from Michigan voters by July 11.
Sommer Foster, the co-executive director of Michigan Voices, said her organization has been handing out petitions all day to first-time volunteers to collect signatures for the ballot measure and is expecting more to sign up. The group has already seen 30,000 people raise their hands to get involved with the campaign, which expects to meet the filing deadline, Foster said.
"This is an all-hands-on-deck moment," she said. "The (U.S.) Supreme Court has made clear that is it up to us to come together to protect reproductive freedom."
The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to reverse the landmark Roe v. Wade case protecting a national right to abortion, now leaves that right in the hands of individual states.
"Our worst fears have become a reality today," said Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "But we are here today to say that we are fighting back and we are going to do everything we possibly can to block abortion bans from irreparably harming Michiganders."
For decades, Roe nullified Michigan's long-dormant state ban on abortion. Foster called the May ruling from a Michigan Court of Claims judge temporarily blocking enforcement of that ban in response to a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan a "saving grace for many who need care right now," but said it was "not a permanent solution." Conservatives have appealed the temporary injunction.
The Reproductive Freedom for All amendment proposes a new and general right to reproductive freedom, including the right to access abortions and birth control without political interference.
The language of the proposed amendment leaves the door open to regulate abortions "after fetal viability." The amendment defines that as the point when a fetus could likely survive outside the uterus "without the application of extraordinary medical measures" as determined by a health care professional. The proposed amendment, however, would bar any prohibition of abortions deemed medically necessary.
Opponents of the constitutional amendment have encouraged voters to decline to sign petitions to place the measure on the ballot and are gearing up to challenge the measure ahead of the November election.
"We're anticipating that voters will not support this and it will not pass in November if they even get on the ballot," said Christen Pollo, the spokesperson for the Citizens to Support MI Women and Children coalition opposing the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment. In the meantime, she said the group is pursuing "every avenue available" to keep the proposal off the ballot.
She dubbed Reproductive Freedom for All the "anything goes abortion amendment," and said it is "vastly different" from the abortion rights guaranteed under Roe and would allow abortion "at any point in pregnancy."
"That's not true," said Bonsitu Kitaba, the deputy legal director for the ACLU of Michigan. The amendment ensures a right to abortion up to fetal viability while allowing medical providers' assessments of their patients' health to determine whether an abortion is necessary past that point, Kitaba said. Doctors need to have "all available medical treatment options, including C-section and induction and abortion if that's the best course for that particular patient and their health."
In addition to the pending Planned Parenthood of Michigan lawsuit, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has filed her own lawsuit asking the Michigan Supreme Court to strike down a state law banning abortions.
Whitmer's lawsuit argues that state law violates a right to bodily integrity provided under the state's constitution. The state's high court has not yet indicated whether it will weigh in on the matter, but the court has asked Whitmer's legal team to address key procedural questions following the temporary injunction on the state's abortion ban issued by the lower court in the Planned Parenthood lawsuit.
Khogali said that the Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment would give voters an opportunity to "reinforce" the right to an abortion and "have it explicitly stated in the constitution."
[ Want more updates on this developing story? Download our app for the latest ]
Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at email@example.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.