New ballot initiative would ban abortions in Michigan after fetal heartbeat

The heartbeat abortion ban was filed around a week after the Michigan House and Senate passed bills that would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation. Abortion rights advocates protest in front of the Michigan state Capitol building Tuesday. (Bridge photo by Lindsay VanHulle)

August 2019: Planned Parenthood says 42,000 in Michigan at risk over abortion 'gag rule
Update: Michigan abortion foes can call procedure ‘dismemberment’ on ballot petitions

The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, a new anti-abortion ballot committee, filed a ballot initiative petition Tuesday morning to ban abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

The new proposal is akin to what’s been proposed in at least 15 other states this year and most recently signed into law in Georgia. The measure effectively bans abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy, when the fetal heartbeat is first detected and before many women know they’re pregnant.

Corey Shankleton, president of the group, said the bill language was designed to provide an opportunity to challenge Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed the right to abortion.

“The heartbeat is a more consistent, constant medical standard than the current use of viability,” which is the current point at which abortion becomes illegal, Shankleton said.

“It’s not an emotional appeal, it’s a scientific appeal. All of us know a heartbeat is known as a determination of life.”

Even if it is approved, the measure almost certainly would face a court challenge, especially as long as Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.

The proposal would make it a felony punishable by two to four years in prison for healthcare providers to perform abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected; it would not punish the woman seeking an abortion. If the woman dies during an abortion, the sentence for the provider would be raised to six to 15 years in prison.

The measure includes an exception for cases in which the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or “to prevent a serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function.” It does not include an exception for cases of rape or incest.

Lauren Owens, a Michigan-based OBGYN specializing in family planning and a fellow at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the proposal would ban abortions at a point in embryonic development that many women don’t yet know they’re pregnant — particularly those who are not closely monitoring their cycle or seeking pregnancy.

“I think that these are dangerous for women’s health,” Owens said. “All of these are medically unnecessary bans that keep patients from getting the care that they want and they need.”

The proposal comes a week after another abortion restriction — to ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure called dilation and evacuation (D&E) — passed in the Michigan House and Senate. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, vowed to veto the bills if they reach her desk, and Right to Life of Michigan filed their own ballot initiative to push the policy.

Both Right to Life and the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition would have to collect at least 340,047 valid petition signatures within 180 days after certification for their proposal to qualify for the ballot. Most groups collect thousands more to leave room for signatures invalidated by mistakes or duplications.

Shankleton said the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition will gather signatures with all-volunteer signature gatherers, and that the group already has several thousand volunteers. Organizers expect they need around 15,000 volunteers to make the ballot, he said.

If successful, state lawmakers could approve the initiated legislation before it goes to the ballot, which is likely under the GOP-led Legislature. If they choose not to, the measure would go to the statewide ballot in November 2020. If approved either way, the measure would become law and cannot be vetoed by the governor.

Abortion rights proponents condemned both proposals Tuesday. Lori Carpentier, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said in a statement: “A ban is a ban is a ban.”

The proposals are “not about a specific procedure or specific timing – it is about banning all abortion – no matter why, no matter when,” Carpentier said. “These bans are harmful, unconstitutional, and deeply unpopular."

Genevieve Marnon, Legislative Director for Right to Life of Michigan, said seeking signatures for two abortion-related ballot initiatives at once may cause confusion and make it harder for both groups to bring their measures to voters.

She added the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition proposal is “imprudent” because Michigan already has a ban on all abortions that would go into effect if Roe v Wade is overturned. The Heartbeat Coalition’s ban is less restrictive than the current one, she said, and it may take precedence over the current ban if passed.

“We of course love enthusiasm and passion for a pro-life subject, we just want people to understand that Michigan is not” the same as other states that have recently supported heartbeat abortion bans, Marnon said.

“We have different state laws and what works in one state doesn’t necessarily work in another state.”

Shankleton countered that his group’s proposal includes a provision to prevent it from superceding the existing total abortion ban. Plus, he said, there’s a possibility Roe v Wade could be amended to only allow abortions before a heartbeat is detected rather than overturned completely, in which case Michigan’s ban wouldn’t come into effect.

“Our stance is why can’t we love them both?” Shankleton said. “We think both bills have value and they carry certain strategic strengths and yet we really need to fulfill them both.”

The national context

The number of proposed bans on first-trimester abortions has grown dramatically in recent years.

It’s a new type of restriction following years of policies that place restrictions on specific abortion procedures, types of clinics or those performed in the second-trimester, among others.

Highly restrictive policies such as bans on abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected have become more popular since the U.S. Supreme Court became more conservative last year. The court now has five conservative-leaning justices that anti-abortion activists hope would consider overturning Roe v Wade.

“Everybody sees the momentum that’s happening” nationwide, Shankleton of the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition said.

In August 2018, the last time the Washington Post and ABC News polled voters on abortion access, 45 percent of respondents said the Supreme Court should leave the ability to get an abortion the same as it is now. Thirty percent said it should be made harder to get an abortion; 21 percent said it should be easier.

A 2014 study by the Pew Research Center found that 54 percent of Michiganders prefer abortion be legal in all or most cases, compared to 42 percent who said it should be illegal in all or most cases.

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Susan Pankhurst
Tue, 05/21/2019 - 6:47pm

This is all so insulting and humiliating to women. Enough already

Susan Pankhurst
Tue, 05/21/2019 - 6:51pm

Insulting and humiliating to women.

Indigenous Angel
Tue, 05/21/2019 - 11:21pm

Meanwhile people are dying from the opioid epidemic, racism, domestic violence, discrimination, etc... and religious fundamentalists want to focus on a whats going on inside a women's uterus. What are these people doing for victims of sex trafficking, etc? They are so full of colonial shit. Stop your white man mission from "God." Its getting really old.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:39pm

It's called 'Christian Sharia' - our new mullahs are legislating fatwas. They can't (and don't care) about our roads, schools, opioid crisis, water. And 'votes' should be controlled by the mullahs and won't count.

Kathi Geukes
Sun, 05/26/2019 - 8:27am


Dave Frederick
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 8:33am

We need to stop saying heartbeat bill, it not a heart just a glob of nervous tissue firing. Yes, it eventually becomes a heart but it is not a heart or heartbeat at that stage of development.

Michael Lovell
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 8:51am


Wed, 05/22/2019 - 9:51am

By god, I cannot wait for the lead-poisoned Boomers to die off

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:42pm

So stop shouting in caps. We already have common sense birth control. It's called Roe v Wade and 67% of the people in our country support that. But don't let that confuse you....

Jim V
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 9:15am

Calling the embryonic flutter a heartbeat is ludicrous. First of all, at 6 weeks, it is an embryo, not a fetus. The "heart" of that embryo isn't actually a heart, but a primitive organelle that might later become a heart. Secondly, this so-called heartbeat can only be detected with the most advanced medical imaging devices. No medical professional can possibly detect this flutter, even with a high quality stethoscope.
All of that is secondary to the fact that this should remain a medical decision between a woman and her doctor. Politicians should stay out of medical decisions and religious groups should focus their concerns on their spiritual wholeness and stay out of other peoples lives.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 9:47am

if it is your body, try selling a kidney

Gary Lea
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 9:50am

Male responsibility, condoms and vasectomies remain unaddressed by politicians.

Alexander Beaton
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:03pm

If as a society we want to significantly reduce abortions, we have to be honest about what needs to be done, and an outright ban is not the answer. Neither is the draconian measure of forced sterilization suggested above with a ‘one and done’ policy. Why would anyone give the government such control over their bodies? I also noticed that “YOU MUST STERILIZE YOURSELF” is directed at the mother, but not the father. Why is that? If the man is complicit in the abortion, shouldn’t he be ‘one and done’ too?

People need open access to contraception and gynecological care. Planned Parenthood is largely filling that role for women with a much broader range of services than those who protest their existence would ever acknowledge. Then we have large religious organizations openly opposed to any form of contraception or family planning. Even "good Christians" stray from the path of righteousness, and they always have. Women are asking for accountability from men, and some empathy for the burden they bare growing life inside of them. Bringing a baby to term is not easy, it's not cheap (even with insurance), nor is it without danger to the mother's health. The burden of single parenthood doesn't always fall on them, but it usually does. Punishment for rape is absurdly light, and women are at times mocked and shamed for coming forward, which is discouraging to other women to do the same. There's also many states that give rapists parental rights, which is child abuse, aside from the grief it causes the mother. Abortion should be a legal option, but there is a lot that can be done to reduce its use both through access to contraception, healthcare, and education.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:19pm

If the legislature took up the proposal language before it was placed on the ballot, why would that not go before the governor for a veto? At that point wouldn't it just be normal legislation?

Nick Ciaramitaro
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 8:00pm

The State Constitution provides that if sufficient signatures are gathered to certify an initiated law and the Legislature adopts that law within 40 days, it is not subject to gubernatorial veto.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:28pm

A human being has many stages of life. Why is it okay to kill unborn children at this stage of life, falsely stating it's just a clump of cells, etc.? Why not extend it to the next stage of life - the toddler? Abortion and euthanasia: no respect for life - a selfish, self-serving, throwaway society is what we have become. The diabolical disorientation is profound.

Jim K
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 12:50pm

All of this commotion over a woman's right to her body, but what about the fetus' right to live? Did you notice the sign in the picture accompanying this article that says "Girls just wanna have fun?" That's the real story. Abortion is now just another form of birth control. Does it make someone feel better to be able to say that they just killed a fetus, not a person? I'm unaware of any human fetus developing into a lower life form instead of a human being. Adoption is available for anyone who doesn't want or can't raise a child.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 1:27pm

I agree with all the previous comments. Democrats should have as many abortions and as few kids as possible.

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 3:38pm

Thank you Jim, Matt and Keegan for your comments. Abortion should not be used as a method of birth control. All these women who say it is 'their body and their right' should learn to use birth control pills, condoms, or other reliable methods to avoid creating a possible baby then there wouldn't be an issue.

Not MY body?
Thu, 05/23/2019 - 6:27am

Mary. Last I knew this IS my body.
Judgements of what a woman should do with no accountability, and often no responsibility, for the sperm generator, seems to be telling of your beliefs. I don't know you, of course, and don't wish to pre-judge you. What steps have you taken to help men "learn to use birth control"? Where is the other half's responsibility to first ask for consent and then assure error proof birth control exists before removing their pants?

Wed, 05/22/2019 - 10:07pm

If I understand this properly - they will likely be able to collect the needed signatures, the R's will accept it and pass it and it will become law not subject to veto. Pretty much a done deal if nothing is done.
How about Pro Choice folks doing a petition to change the existing law slightly - restore D&E - change the weeks sligthly from current law - limit 3rd trimester proceedures except under limited circumstances. Make it something a majority of voters would likely support - don't go too far. Republican's unlikely to adopt it - so hopefully would go on the ballot and would likely pass. Would that take precidence over what the legislature passed? Should as it would represent the will of a majority of the voters.
Should turn out a lot lot of Pro Choice Voters - you know Right To Life will show up. Might be enough of an issue to defeat some Reublicans and maybe even flip the house and narrow the gap in the Senate.
Pro Choice folks need to take action. Does this suggested approach make sense?

Mrs A
Wed, 05/22/2019 - 11:44pm

The activist quoted in the article states "It’s not an emotional appeal, it’s a scientific appeal. All of us know a heartbeat is known as a determination of life” however this is a completely specious opinion. Cardiomyocytes - heart muscle cells - beat. I myself have seen them under the microscope, little blobby cells flagellating away in rhythm. Yes, they are alive because they can be cultured to divide as cells do, and yes, they beat, because they are heart muscle cells so it is their nature. But are they a person, a thinking, separate, legal person? Of course not. So the heartbeat criteria is not scientific but fantastical, utterly emotional, and legally unsustainable.

Also to the males commenting here, not one of whom has any genuine understanding of pregnancy, I say please trust your women to make the right decision regarding their pregnancies. Mothers do not take motherhood lightly, it is simply impossible. Abortion is never sought capriciously. It is always a wrenching decision, whether prompted by heartbreak or medical necessity. Trust women. A woman will make the right decision for her body, her health, her finances, her family, and her god. Trust women.

Kathi Geukes
Sun, 05/26/2019 - 8:39am

One person here seems to think that babies are made by just the woman.....yeah Mary...I'm talking about sound just like the fanatical friend I had to delete on Facebook because her ranting was so extreme she sounded like someone who watched Faux and Fiends every day....guess what?.....I found out she's time for the men to step up and I see here more are doing just that....what the woman does with her body should be the concern of hers, her doctors and her better half.....or the person who made her that way....not you and your bible thumping minions who only care about babies before they are born....not after. There are so many kids and Moms in need in this state right now.....but do you care about them?? No......just the "preborn"...God, I hate that word......Just so you know....all your Faux Christianity is going to get you is a deep hole in the ground with lots of dirt to cover you.....and this is coming from a Great grandmother with 3 kids, 8 grandkids and 3 Greatgrands…I used to think you cared about people....then I found out you only cared about pages in a book.

Faith Dandois
Mon, 05/27/2019 - 4:10pm

And they have raised up the flesh as a false idol, worshiping a beating heart over all the things that give life meaning and worth, conflating the flesh with a life lived. They are simpletons who cannot grasp that difference..that complex concept of a life lived versus the flesh. This bill is a travesty against common sense rule. They would rule with emotional hysteria. This is not good government...creating laws that no one will follow, no one will enforce, and which the government is incapable of enforcing. Making criminals of good people out of misguided emotional myths and false idols is bad management. Our representatives must start ruling with good sense. They must keep their heads while the those about them are losing theirs. Women's lives depend on it.

Paul Jordan
Wed, 05/29/2019 - 2:24pm

All the debate exhibited below clearly illustrates the lack of consensus that exists around this issue. People--and most critically pregnant people--hold various opinions about abortion which leads to people making different choices about continuing their pregnancy (or not). The anti-abortionists may couch their arguments in moral terms, but their real interest is in forcing a false legal consensus by using political power to substitute their will and judgement for that of pregnant women.

Sun, 06/02/2019 - 10:01pm

Jim K.: Girls just wanna have FUN is clearly cropped in the picture,with a hyphen, leading to, I'm guessing, something like "FUN-damental rights". Abortion rates have been dropping for the last 20 years due to increased access to birth control (and you may be amazed to hear that many forms of birth control, even the Pill, CAN fail.). Life is not black and white, and sometimes you need to choose between the potential life and the one who is already living. No one wakes up one morning and says "Gee, I changed my mind - I think I'll have an abortion." And I'll be damned if I will raise my children in a medieval theocracy. You have no right to impose your religious views on me or anyone else.