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Advocates seek ballot measure to keep abortion legal in Michigan

abortion protest
Michigan is one of nine states that had abortion bans on the books in 1973, when the Supreme Court ruled that abortion is a legal right. (Rachel Goodhew / Shutterstock.com)

Advocates want Michigan voters this fall to amend the state constitution to allow abortions, nullifying a 1931 law that makes it a felony to perform the procedure unless it is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.

A coalition of abortion-rights proponents announced plans Friday to seek enough signatures to put the proposal before voters in November. They fear the U.S. Supreme Court could strike down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that effectively made abortion a legal right nationwide.

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Michigan organizers would need to collect 425,059 signatures of registered voters by July 11 to get on the November ballot.

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“We are confident we will have the support we need to make it on the ballot this year. It is clear that reproductive freedom is a strong Michigan value and there is widespread support for securing that right in state law,” Merissa Kovach,  policy strategist with the ACLU of Michigan, part of the coalition supporting the effort, said in a statement.

If approved, the proposal would amend the Michigan Constitution and affirm residents’ rights to “reproductive freedom,” including decisions “relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care, and childbirth,” according to the coalition, which also includes Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices, a progressive nonprofit.

A ballot initiative comes after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in December about a Mississippi law that makes abortion illegal after the 15 weeks of gestation.  

Advocates say a decision could lead to Roe’s reversal, which would allow states to regulate abortion. 

Michigan is one of nine states that still had abortion bans on the books when Roe v. Wade came down, meaning the 1931 ban would go back into effect.   

“Now is the moment for us to come together to protect this fundamental right for Michigan as we hold our collective breath for the Supreme Court’s ruling,” Loren Khogali, executive director of ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement.

The ballot effort “shows clearly that the other side knows that Roe’s days are numbers and they’re trying to get out in front of it,” said Genevieve Marnon, legislative director for Right to Life Michigan. She said she’s hopeful the court will strike down Roe v. Wade.

The state Board of State Canvassers would have to approve the language of the petition before it can be circulated but Marnon, whose own group has sought ballot proposals in the past, said that approval could happen within a few weeks.

The Michigan Catholic Conference issued a statement calling the ballot measure a “sad commentary on the outsized and harmful role the abortion industry plays in our politics and our society. We look forward to standing with women through a potential statewide ballot campaign to promote a culture of life and good health for both moms and unborn children.”

Just under 30,000 abortions were performed in Michigan in 2020, the last year for which complete figures are available. That was the most since 1996, when there were 30,208.

Annual abortions in Michigan had fallen from 49,098 in 1987 to 22,357 in 2009, but the number has slowly increased since then.

But the number of abortions in the state has risen slowly since.

Michigan voters rejected, 61 percent to 39 percent, a 1972 ballot proposal to limit abortions to the first 20 weeks of gestation. 

In 1988, they approved, 57 percent to 43 percent, a measure banning the use of public funds for abortions.

On three other occasions, legislators adopted abortion-related proposals after advocates got enough signatures to put measures on the ballot including 1990 proposal requiring parental consent for abortions to women under 18 and one in 2013 prohibiting health insurers from paying for abortions unless a woman had purchased abortion coverage.

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In 2004, the Legislature approved a law that would prohibit the use of the dilation and evacuation method of abortion — considered partial birth abortions —  following the successful collection of signatures but before it was put on the ballot. 

In 2007, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals declared that law unconstitutional.

Right to Life Michigan had attempted in 2019 to put a ballot proposal before voters to limit some abortion procedures. It stopped the effort after failing to secure enough signatures.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in 2019 that if Roe v. Wade was overturned her office would not prosecute women or doctors for obtaining or providing abortions.

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