LANSING, Mich. – A ballot group on Monday submitted petitions to prohibit a second-trimester abortion procedure in Michigan, a key step toward placing the veto-proof legislation before the Republican-controlled Legislature.
The Michigan Values Life committee said it turned in nearly 380,000 voter signatures to the state elections bureau, more than the roughly 340,000 needed. If the petitions are certified as valid, lawmakers would have a 40-day window to enact the ban against dilation and evacuation — as expected — despite Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s opposition to identical bills that cleared both legislative chambers in May but have not been sent to her desk.
The procedure, in which the fetus is removed in pieces with a surgical instrument, was used in 1,908, or 7%, of abortions in the state last year. It accounted for more than half of all second-trimester abortions, including 80% performed after the 16th week of pregnancy.
Right to Life of Michigan, the main organizer of the initiative, refers to the method as “dismemberment.” The group has successfully initiated anti-abortion laws four times previously since 1987.
“The 379,418 people who signed their names on this life-saving dismemberment ban should be confident that our pro-life majorities in the Michigan Legislature will pass the bill again, just like they did back in May,” said president Barbara Listing.
Abortion-rights advocates say the procedure is safe and physicians should not face prosecution for using it.
“We need doctors to be able to provide the best standard of care in the way that they’re trained to do. This decision on what is best for the patient needs to be made between the patient and the doctor without this threat of criminal prosecution looming over the doctor’s judgment,” said Merissa Kovach, policy strategist with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
The proposed law has an exception to protect a pregnant woman’s life but not in cases of rape, incest, a severe fetal diagnosis or when the woman faces a non-life threatening health risk.
Kovach said there are questions about when the life exemption would apply, particularly in emergency situations.
Legislators are likely to approve the citizen-initiated bill. If not, the proposal would go to a statewide vote in November.
Whitmer has vowed to veto identical legislation that Republicans proposed as normal bills. But under the state constitution, a governor’s veto threat can effectively be bypassed through the initiative process.
Dilation and evacuation has been banned by 12 states. Bans are in effect in two but are permanently or temporarily enjoined in nine states because of legal challenges. North Dakota’s law will become effective if a federal appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court allows its enforcement.
The ACLU said it is prepared to sue if the Michigan measure is enacted.
Among the groups applauding the signature-collection effort was the Michigan Catholic Conference, which said some 800 Catholic parishes, schools and entities participated.
“We encourage elected officials on both sides of the aisle to vote with their conscience and protect unborn human life from this gruesome procedure,” said policy advocate Rebecca Mastee.