Right to Life of Michigan abandons petition drive to end abortion procedure

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Right to Life of Michigan has ended its petition drive to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, noting it would focus its efforts on the 2020 election rather than continue fighting against challenges to the validity of the signatures gathered.

The end of the drive marks the first failure of an initiative organized by Right to Life of Michigan, said Genevieve Marnon, Right to Life of Michigan's legislative director. 

The group had survived a challenge in June to the thousands of signatures it gathered last year for the abortion ban and was expected to fight a second challenge from an opposition committee organized by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. 

The Bureau of Elections, which recommended denial in June, was scheduled to release its second recommendation on the petition drive by 5 p.m. Tuesday.

But Right to Life of Michigan ended the drive Tuesday morning based on the second challenge and correspondence from the bureau that led the group to believe it was still short of enough valid signatures. 

In June, the Bureau of Elections recommended that the Board of State Canvassers deny the petition, which state election officials said was short of the 340,047 signatures needed to advance through the petition process. 

The signatures included duplicates, wrong voter registration status and other mistakes, according to the bureau. Right to Life of Michigan collected 380,070 signatures, leaving little room for errors among those collected.

“Our volunteers did an excellent job, but the bulk of the errors were things beyond our control, specifically people not knowing their voter registration status or forgetting they already signed the petition,” said Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing. 

If approved by the Board of State Canvassers, Right to Life of Michigan had planned to submit the ban to the GOP-led Legislature for enactment rather than put it on the November ballot. Legislative approval of the petition would have allowed the group to avoid going to voters and a promised veto by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if it went through the normal legislative process.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan credited its win to abortion rights voters who voted in the 2018 election, increasing the threshold of signatures Right to Life of Michigan would need to collect to qualify the petition.

The group framed the defeat of the petition as a victory for doctors and patients throughout Michigan.

"Whether it was by negligence or whether it was an attempt to pad their numbers and hope no one would notice, Right to Life turned in thousands of invalid signatures with a shocking number of duplicates," said Lori Carpenter, president and CEO for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

Barbara Listing at a news conference in June 2019.

Last month, the Board of State Canvassers found that the original 500-signature sample pulled from Right to Life of Michigan's total signatures contained an insufficient number of valid signatures. 

But the board agreed to allow the Michigan Values Life Committee a second chance by asking the Bureau of Elections to pull an additional 1,600 signatures to analyze. The bureau also was directed to re-examine petition sheets that had been eliminated for defects.

Listing said the group faced challenges including changes to Michigan’s petition drive law and a competing petition to ban abortion after a heartbeat is detected.

“The biggest hurdle was the large turnout in the 2018 election, which increased the number of signatures required,” Listing said. “Our signature total would have been more than required in any previous year in Michigan history.”

Right to Life of Michigan has successfully gathered requisite signatures in four other petition drives in 1987, 1990, 2004 and 2013.