Michigan House votes to repeal 1931 abortion ban
- A 1931 state law made it a four-year felony to perform abortions in Michigan except for life-threatening pregnancies
- Enforcement was largely prohibited by Roe v. Wade, and later by passage of Proposal 3
- Two House Republicans joined Democrats in supporting the repeal, others argued statute should stay
LANSING — The Michigan House voted Thursday to repeal the 1931 ban that supporters argue is no longer constitutional after the passage of Proposal 3 last fall.
Getting the law — which criminalized abortions except in life-threatening pregnancies — off the books was a top priority for Michigan Democrats, who control majorities in both the House and Senate and the governor’s office after the 2022 election.
The passage of Proposal 3 making abortion a constitutional right neutralized the ban once again after the downfall of Roe v. Wade made abortion rights an open legal question in Michigan. But Pohutsky and other Michigan Democrats said it’s time the ban is gone for good.
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Voters made it “crystal clear that they want abortion to remain safe and accessible,” Pohutsky said on the floor.
While speaking, Pohutsky took a copy of Michigan’s dormant 1931 abortion ban and ripped it up.
In two 58-50 votes, House lawmakers voted both to repeal the 1931 law as well as a ban on medicine, drugs or substances that could be used to induce a miscarriage.
In addition to the Democratic caucus, the effort had the support of two House Republicans: Reps. Donni Steele, R-Orion Township, and Tom Kuhn, R-Troy.
The 1931 law made it a four-year felony to perform abortions, but enforcement was largely prohibited for decades by Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that established a national right to legal abortion. That legal status changed in June, when the now-conservative-dominated court overturned Roe.
In the months after Roe fell, some Republican county prosecutors considered enforcing Michigan’s 1931 ban if the possibility presented itself, but the law was temporarily suspended amid legal challenges from Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood of Michigan.
Michigan voters effectively ended the state’s legal debate over abortion in November by approving Proposal 3, which passed by 14 percentage points. The sweeping measure added broad reproductive rights to the Michigan Constitution.
Two lawmakers, Reps. Christine Morse, D-Portage, and Julie Brixie, D-Meridian Township, shared their personal abortion experiences on the House floor Thursday as they shared their support for the bills, which they said would protect the personal freedoms of Michigan residents faced with life-changing pregnancy decisions.
Morse said she opted to get an abortion so she could begin cancer treatment. Brixie said she wouldn’t be sharing the reasons she obtained an abortion, because “they really aren’t anyone’s business.”
“My abortion story is everyone’s abortion story,” she said. “The government does not belong in our bedrooms or the doctor’s office.”
Proposal 3 still allows the state to regulate abortion after the point of fetal viability. But many Republicans claimed the 1931 law is the only statute available to prohibit late-term or forced abortions.
“What recourse will there be?” Rachelle Smit, R-Shelbyville, asked Thursday. “This is not what voters wanted when they approved Proposal 3.”
Rep. Gina Johnsen, R-Lake Odessa, expressed concern that repealing the prohibition on abortion medicine and other alternatives could pave the way for “DIY at-home abortions” or allow unlicensed people to sell or advertise unapproved drugs for abortion.
Republicans offered several amendments on the floor to tie the bill to other legislation aiming to regulate abortion or address outstanding questions about the limits of Michigan abortion law after Proposal 3, including statutes still on the books that require parental consent or a court order for a minor to obtain an abortion. Democrats rejected those proposals.
Supporters of abortion freedoms said personal beliefs on abortion shouldn’t impact the choices of others, especially after voters approved Proposal 3. Rep. Stephanie Young, D-Detroit, said she would personally never have chosen to get an abortion, but respects the choices made by a close friend and other Michigan residents who have.
Repealing the state’s abortion ban “means justice, plain and simple,” Young said.
The bills now head to the Senate, where they’re likely to see support from the Democratic-majority chamber. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has also been a vocal advocate for abortion rights and considers repealing the existing ban a top priority.
Pohutsky told reporters after the vote that moving forward, revisiting policies that could make it more difficult for people to access reproductive care, including mandatory waiting periods and requiring abortion providers be licensed as a freestanding surgical center, is a possibility.
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