Ballot drive to protect abortion rights launched in Michigan

Pen and paper. Photo by Chandler Cruttenden on Unsplash. (Unsplash)

LANSING, Mich. – A ballot drive launched in Michigan on Friday would enshrine a woman's right to an abortion in the state constitution, as the U.S. Supreme Court considers weakening or overturning its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

Reproductive Freedom for All's petition would affirm the right to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference, including about abortion and other reproductive services such as birth control, supporters said. The groups leading the effort are Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Michigan Voices.

Michigan still has a 90-year-old abortion ban on its books if Roe is reversed, and Republican legislative leaders oppose Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's request to repeal the law. Michigan is among eight states with unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans.

The high court last month heard arguments on whether to uphold Mississippi’s ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. Mississippi has asked the conservative-leaning court to overrule Roe and a follow-up 1992 decision that prevents states from banning abortion before viability, the point around 24 weeks of pregnancy when a fetus can survive outside the womb. Its decision is expected next summer.

Organizers of the ballot initiative need about 425,000 valid voter signatures to put it before the electorate in November. It can cost millions of dollars to successfully circulate petitions.

Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said the vast majority of residents want abortion to remain safe, legal and accessible. The state is at a “critical moment in history for abortion access," she said.

“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,” said Loren Khogali, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan, saying “deeply personal” decisions about whether to have an abortion should be left to women and their medical professionals.

The state's attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, and at least one local prosecutor have said they would not enforce the 1931 ban, a form of which has been on the books since 1846. But Whitmer and Nessel are up for reelection this year, when Republicans are expected to benefit from political tailwinds because the party that controls the White House generally fairs worse in the first midterm election after it assumes the presidency.

Anti-abortion groups will oppose the petition drive.

“We cannot allow the vulnerable to be killed in the name of convenience,” said Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing.

Rebecca Mastee, a policy advocate at the Michigan Catholic Conference, called the initiative "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."

In a June poll conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, 61% of Americans said abortion should be legal in most or all circumstances in the first trimester. But larger majorities said abortion should usually or always be illegal in the second and third trimesters.

Voters in at least one other state, Vermont, also could consider a constitutional amendment in November to enshrine “reproductive autonomy" if the Democratic-controlled state House sends it to the ballot. The state already has a law guaranteeing abortion rights.

In Kansas, voters in August will consider an anti-abortion amendment stating that the state constitution provides no right to abortion and the Legislature can regulate it however lawmakers see fit — which means if Roe is upended, Republicans could ban abortion completely.


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