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Bridge Michigan
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Abortion-rights petition drive sees surge in volunteers after leaked Roe draft

protest in Lansing
A leaked Supreme Court opinion has ignited a surge of interest among those seeking to keep abortion legal in Michigan. (Dale Young/Bridge Michigan)

LANSING — Michael Hertz began his Wednesday at 6 a.m., sifting through emails from new volunteers from Northern Michigan wishing to help keep abortion legal.

Over the past 48 hours, Hertz counted three dozen.

“The number of people who are joining the team up here in northern Michigan has gone through the roof,” said Hertz, who lives in Benzie County and is a retired OB-GYN and a volunteer coordinator with abortion rights petition group Reproductive Freedom for All.

More about these groups

Reproductive Freedom for All needs to collect valid signatures from 425,059 registered voters by July 11 to get a measure to enshrine reproductive rights into Michigan’s constitution on the November ballot. 

Anti-abortion groups are mobilizing against the signaturing-gathering effort through a coalition called Citizens to Support MI Women & Children that urges people not to sign the petitions.

A draft opinion leaked Monday indicating that the U.S. Supreme Court is ready to strike down Roe v. Wade — a 1973 landmark case establishing abortion as a nationwide right — has jolted thousands into action to preserve abortion access in Michigan, abortion rights groups say.

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Reproductive Freedom for All, which seeks to enshrine women’s right to abortion into Michigan’s Constitution, had gained 12,000 new volunteers statewide between Monday night and Wednesday morning, said Merissa Kovach of American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan.

Prior to Monday, Kovach said, volunteers for the petition group numbered in the hundreds. 

The group, which is also using professional petition gatherers, must collect at least 425,059 valid signatures before July 11 to place the issue on the November ballot.

Michigan’s anti-abortion groups say they have not experienced a similar jump in support or fundraising since Monday, But they say they’ve had a “steady” increase in volunteers since the abortion rights petition group was formed.

Sponsor

At an annual meeting with lawmakers on Tuesday, anti-abortion lawmakers and activists were excited about the Monday news, said Right to Life Michigan spokesperson Anna Visser.

“That definitely motivated our affiliates,” Visser said. “They are a really good base for our volunteers and they stay motivated very well.”

For anti-abortion activists, supporting like-minded candidates will be “a big event this year” given the large number of open seats during the 2022 election, Visser told Bridge on Tuesday. She urged anti-abortion advocates to download brochures and other resources from the group’s website and discourage people in their social circles from signing the petition.

“We're hoping to just educate as many people as possible throughout the summer and into the fall on why they shouldn't sign this petition,” Visser said, adding that the petition is “trying to invalidate every pro-life law.”

Laura Alexandria, president of Grand Rapids Right to Life, told Bridge that phone calls increased to her chapter from callers seeking information about the petition and the current state of abortion law in Michigan.

Volunteers and donations have been “steady and increasing” over the past months, she said.

“The leaked (document) on Monday certainly heightened interest in what is happening in Michigan, but our supporters were on the ground running in January when the Reproductive Freedom for All petition drive was announced,” Alexandria said. 

Sponsor

The influx of support for Reproductive Freedom for All was partly because of the social media posts by petition group members such as ACLU and Planned Parenthood in Michigan, Kovach said. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., also urged voters to donate to the Michigan petition drive on a campaign website, Kovach added.

But the main reason, she said, is the leaked draft opinion from the higher court invigorated abortion rights supporters who want to channel their energy into action. 

If Roe is overturned, states could individually regulate abortion, and in Michigan, a 1931 law would take effect that makes performing the procedure a felony.

“It was such a gut punch,” Kovach said. “When people are faced with that level of crisis and trauma, there’s a ground swell. People want to jump in, they want to help, and they want to find where they can direct their energy to meet the moment.”

The petition campaign is currently reaching out to all new volunteers and preparing to hire more staff to accommodate the spike in support, Kovach told Bridge.

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