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Abortion locked into Michigan constitution. What comes next.

pro abortion protest in lansing
Michigan was one of four states Tuesday in which voters protected abortion access. (Dale Young/Bridge Michigan)
  • Law takes effect on Dec. 24. Legislature may look to codify repeal of existing state ban on abortions
  • Lawsuits likely over some aspects of Proposal 3, but it’s unclear when they might come
  • Supporters say Michigan is a ‘beacon of hope.’ Others see despair

Nov. 21: A Texas lawsuit could stifle Michigan access to the abortion pill

LANSING — Michigan’s Proposal 3 ballot measure prevailed by a wide margin this week, marking a historic victory for abortion rights advocates. 

The constitutional amendment will enshrine rights to reproductive services into the state constitution and effectively invalidate a now-blocked 1931 abortion ban, which would have criminalized most abortions in the state.

With more than 98 percent of precincts reporting, the ballot measure won 57 percent to 43 percent.

 

Sponsors of the measure, Reproductive Freedom for All, said the proposal will give women “uninterrupted access to abortion and other critical reproductive health care services.”

Related: 

Opponents, such as the Michigan Catholic Conference, deemed the election “tragic” and claimed it will bring “legal uncertainty” on multiple state laws regulating abortion.

What happens next? What are supporters and opponents saying about it? And how does Michigan compare to other states?

Bridge Michigan has you covered.

When will the constitutional amendment take effect?

Under state law, constitutional amendments that are approved by voters take effect 45 days after Election Day.

In this case, it would be Dec. 24, said Steven Liedel, attorney for the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign.

Sponsor

Can the proposal be undone?

Not easily, if at all.

The only way to amend or invalidate Proposal 3 would be if voters approve another constitutional amendment to that effect, according to state law. 

Fred Wszolek, a GOP strategist working with the anti-abortion coalition Citizens to Support MI Women and Children, told Bridge Michigan there is nothing the campaign can do to challenge the proposal.

“You can’t find a Constitution unconstitutional, I don’t think,” he said.

What happens next?

Opponents have long claimed the proposal would invalidate up to 41 state laws regulating abortion if approved. Proposal 3 proponents have disputed the claim, arguing the proposal would only invalidate the 1931 abortion ban.

The ultimate effect of Proposal 3 on state laws would be determined by the court — if any state law is challenged — or by state lawmakers, legal experts previously told Bridge.

protestor
Paul Dobrowolski is a frequent fixture at the Ann Arbor Planned Parenthood clinic. The work to change women’s “hearts” won’t stop, he said. (Bridge file photo by Robin Erb)

With the passage of Proposal 3, opponents say they will “hold sponsors accountable.” 

“The other side said that’s not true” that other laws are voided, said David Kallman, senior attorney with the faith-based Great Lakes Justice Center

“Well, I guess we’ll see.” 

Anti-abortion groups will keep an eye on potential lawsuits filed by abortion patients that challenge certain state abortion regulations, such as the parental consent requirements, Wszolek said. 

If challenges arise, coalition members will appear in court to “remind” proposal sponsors they never intended to repeal those laws, and the abortion rights campaign will face some “backlash,” Wszolek said. 

“If (Proposal 3 sponsors) are to be trusted, then all that will happen is that the 1931 law will go away,” he said. “We ought to be able to use the words of the sponsors of the proposal to help guide the court (in) how to interpret it.”

Liedel, the attorney for Reproductive Freedom for All, told Bridge the campaign does not expect lawsuits challenging any of the state laws opponents said would be at risk under the proposal. 

“I have zero indication or expectation that there likely will be litigation,” he said. “The proposal is clear.”

What will the Legislature do?

The newly-elected state Legislature — where Democrats will control both state House and Senate come January — favors abortion rights advocates. 

Rep. Julie Brixie, D-Okemos, told Bridge Michigan on Tuesday that lawmakers expect to codify Proposal 3, “adjust” or “repeal” certain state laws to make sure they comply with the constitutional amendment.

“There will be additional legislation that will be necessary to carry it all out,” Brixie said.

Liedel said it would “not be surprising” if the state Legislature repeals the 1931 abortion ban after the constitutional amendment takes effect in late December. 

The Michigan laws unnecessarily restrict abortion access, including one that limits insurance coverage for abortion and another that requires a 24-hour waiting period, said Elizabeth Nash, principal policy associate at the reproductive health research group Guttmacher Institute.

“What Michigan has done is set themselves up to protect reproductive freedoms across the board, including abortion,” Nash told Bridge Michigan.

But legislators won’t get to it until the state legislative services bureau — a nonpartisan agency providing research and legislative interpretation to lawmakers — analyzes the impact of the proposal, Brixie said.

A Democratic-controlled Legislature means lawmakers could loosen current abortion regulations or invalidate some of them under the new constitutional amendment, Wszolek said. 

Michigan wasn’t alone. What happened?

Michiganders joined voters in at least three other states — California, Vermont and Kentucky —approving ballot measures to confirm abortion access

And Montana voters appeared Wednesday to have done the same. But abortion is unavailable in 14 other states; still others are likely to step up efforts to do the same, according to Guttmacher.

Michigan’s vote, as those elsewhere, were the result of a “groundswell of support” from voters, the majority of whom have long believed in reproductive choice, said Nash of Guttmacher.

Westland voter Lana Zacharczuk, 46, agreed: “Voters already knew how they feel about abortion.”

Even a vigorous campaign that called the proposal “confusing and extreme” would fail, Zacharczuk said Wednesday. “Those signs were never going to make a difference,” she said.

Still, nothing was certain, said Renee Chelian, founder of Northland Family Planning Centers, which provide abortion in three southeast Michigan locations.

woman in clinic
Michigan becomes a “beacon of hope” for other states battling over abortion access, said Renee Chelian, founder of Northland Family Planning Center. (Bridge file photo by Robin Erb)

After the last patients left Tuesday, she directed staff to close early.  Emotion and exhaustion fractured Chelian’s voice Wednesday. She was running on three hours’ sleep.

“Michigan is a beacon of hope for everyone else. It matters what Michigan did,” Chelian said.

What happens to clinic protestors?

They aren’t going anywhere.

anti abortion protest
Abortion opponents, and members of 40 Days for Life, gathered on Sunday in Ann Arbor for a prayerful rally against abortion access in Michigan. (Courtesy photo)

“It’s a tragic day for mothers in Michigan,” said Sandie Weathers, campaign director for the Ann Arbor chapter of 40 Days For Life 365.  “But we will continue to fight, continue to pray, and continue to reach out.”

Barb Listing, long-time head of Right to Life, said as much in a prepared statement Wednesday, citing “incredible odds that were ultimately insurmountable.”

In addition to Right to Life of Michigan advocates, “thousands of volunteers and donors, and our many state and local partners selflessly sacrificed their time, talent, and treasure to educate voters on this extreme proposal, standing courageously for the dignity of human life and parental rights,” Listing said.

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