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Abortion opinion upends Michigan campaigns: See where the candidates stand

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Pro-choice activists cheer during a demonstration on the steps of the Capitol against the presumed decision to overturn Roe v Wade on Tuesday. (Dale Young/Bridge Michigan)

LANSING — The prospect of criminalized abortion in Michigan is no longer a hypothetical, upending the dynamics of the state’s fall elections overnight.

A leaked draft opinion indicating the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade calcified long-standing political divides in Michigan: Democrats are working to protect abortion access, while Republicans are cheering the possibility that abortion would again be a felony if Roe is overturned because of a dormant 1931 state law criminalizing the procedure.

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Efforts by Democrats to repeal the law are a nonstarter in the Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans. A ballot measure instead is collecting signatures to force a statewide vote this fall to enshrine abortion access into the state constitution.

Related:

In a video call with reporters Tuesday, Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel said abortion will be a key issue this fall. 

Voters, she said, will have to “pick a side.”

Republicans reiterated their anti-abortion stances and expressed support of the draft opinion. 

“Every facet of America's public policy and society should reflect an unflinching commitment to supporting American families,” gubernatorial hopeful Tudor Dixon said. 

All major GOP candidates running for attorney general and secretary of state say they support the 1931 law that deems abortion a five-year felony unless the procedure necessary to preserve the life of a woman.

The law does not provide an exception for rape or incest, and also makes it a misdemeanor to sell or advertise abortion-inducing drugs.

Here’s a look at where statewide candidates stand and what they said following the release of the draft opinion.

Gubernatorial candidates

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

Whitmer has lobbied for the state Legislature to pass bills repealing the 1931 abortion law and recently filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn it.

On Tuesday, Whitmer took to social media to say she would “never stop fighting like hell to protect every Michiganders right to choose.” 

Whitmer has rebuffed efforts by Republicans to further limit abortion access and during the last budget cycle vetoed funding tied to anti-abortion initiatives.

Republicans

Donna Brandenburg

On her campaign website, the Byron Center businesswoman says she is “solidly pro-life from conception to grave.” 

Michael Brown 

The former Berrien County commissioner and longtime law enforcement officer says on his website that he is pro-life and would veto any attempts to allow government tax funds be used to pay for abortions, and would support state promotion of abortion alternatives like adoption.

In a September 2021 episode of WKAR’s “Off the Record,” Brown said he would support an exemption for rape and incest.

Following the draft opinion’s publication, Brown said on social media that he agreed with a local Right to Life chapter’s take on the matter, which amounted to waiting for the Supreme Court’s official opinion. 

James Craig

The former Detroit Police chief is “unapologetically pro-life and oppose efforts to provide abortion on demand,” per his campaign website.

He has expressed support for keeping the 1931 law on the books if Roe is scrapped.

Tudor Dixon

In a statement issued following the release of the Supreme Court draft opinion, the former sales executive and conservative media personality said she supports the 1931 abortion law. 

She claimed advocates for abortion access will “weaponize the topic of abortion to further divide us,” and offered a message to women facing motherhood.

“We are with you. You can do it,” her statement read. “It may be hard. It may even be an awful circumstance. But I promise you this, the deepest love you have ever felt will come over you when that baby wraps its little hand around your finger, knowing you are mom.”

Perry Johnson

The Oakland County businessman said he views the right to life as a guarantee and said the government’s job is “to protect those God-given rights.”

He said his stance on the issue also extends to investing in education, foster care and adult protective services and creating better options for people with disabilities and seniors. 

Ryan Kelley

In a statement on his website, the former Allendale Township planning commissioner said he supports life “from the womb to the tomb” and claimed science and data explicitly prove that life begins at conception. 

Michael Markey

On his campaign website, the Grand Haven financial adviser stated he “wants to lower the number of abortions” in Michigan.

Ralph Rebandt

In a statement released Tuesday, the Farmington Hills pastor said he was greatly encouraged by the draft opinion’s language and said he’s prepared to fight for anti-abortion policies. 

He said he would support the existing anti-abortion law on the books, praising it for being among the strictest in the country. 

He criticized Whitmer’s comments on the issue, noting that “she hasn’t met the fury of God on this issue — she’s about to in November though when she’s replaced by someone who represents Him.”

Kevin Rinke

The Bloomfield Township businessman has said he would support the 1931 ban.  In a social media post, he criticized the leak, arguing U.S. Supreme Court leaks are unacceptable.

He said he believed the Supreme Court acted properly “by letting the people of Michigan make their own decision.” 

“As governor I will ensure that Michigan is a state that respects the sanctity of life.”

Garrett Soldano 

The Kalamazoo-area chiropractor has said he would support the state’s 1931 ban. In January, he said the unborn need to be protected and society needs to do a better job encouraging women who become pregnant through rape.

“God put them in the moment. That little baby inside of them may be the next president,” he said during an interview.

In a social media post following the leaked opinion, Soldano wrote, “Life is winning!” 

Attorney general 

Incumbent Dana Nessel, a Democrat

Nessel has said she would not enforce the existing ban in Michigan law if Roe is overturned.

The ruling, she said, was "inevitable" and the leak just means it is public "maybe six weeks" earlier than expected. She shared her personal experience of being pregnant with triplets and being told by her doctor that all three would not be able to make it to term, but two might live if one was aborted. She said she would be childless if she hadn’t been able to make that decision.

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"Abortion is on the ballot this November,” she said.

“So you can choose candidates that would like to curtail the rights of women or you can choose candidates who support reproductive rights for women. It's as easy as that."

Matthew DePerno

DePerno said he would enforce the 1931 ban if Roe is overturned. During a February forum, he called the 1972 ruling that made abortion legal nationwide “complete and total nonsense” 

He opposes exceptions to a ban, which can include an abortion to save the mother’s life or in cases of pregnancies caused by rape or incest. 

“Real conservatives… understand that life begins at conception,” he said at the time.

On social media Tuesday, DePerno said he hopes Roe is overturned. 

“This will be such a great win for the unborn and for states' rights,” he said. “The courts must never overstep the bounds of the Constitution.” 

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