Group launches petition drive to 'explicitly affirm' abortion rights in Michigan

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

An abortion rights coalition filed language with the state Friday to launch a ballot initiative that would amend the Michigan Constitution to "explicitly affirm" reproductive rights, including abortion, the group announced. 

The constitutional amendment would override a 1931 Michigan law that makes it a felony to administer medicine or use "any instrument" to produce a miscarriage. The law is set to take full effect in Michigan if the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is considering such a case this term. 

Democratic-sponsored bills introduced in the Michigan House and Senate also seek to repeal the 1931 law, but have little chance of moving through the GOP-controlled chambers.

Kim Enokian of Brighton (left) and her 19-year-old niece Krystalyn Terski protest on the Capitol lawn Saturday, June 22, 2019 to oppose bans that would limit legal abortion procedures in Michigan.

The ballot initiative language was submitted Friday to the Board of State Canvassers by the ballot group Reproductive Freedom for All, a coalition of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices. 

The proposed constitutional amendment would "explicitly affirm Michiganders' fundamental right to reproductive freedom," including "the right to make and carry out decisions without political interference in all matters relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth," according to a statement from the group. 

"We are exploring a ballot measure that would preserve every individual’s constitutional right to make the very personal decision about reproductive health care, including abortion and keep those decisions between the individual and their medical professional," said Nicole Walls Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "We all have the right to determine our own futures.”

Right to Life of Michigan on Friday said it would continue to fight to uphold and respect "the humanity of the unborn."

"The humanity of unborn children cannot be denied, as technology and science have proven, without a doubt, that they are human and deserve legal protection," said Barbara Listing, president for Right to Life of Michigan.

The Michigan Catholic Conference responded that the initiative was "a sad commentary on the outsized and harmful role the abortion industry plays in our politics and state."

"For decades, abortion has been touted as the only option, harmless and easy, yet we know this is a lie," said Rebecca Mastee, a policy advocate for the conference. "Abortion hurts women."  

Reproductive Freedom for All said its filing anticipates an eventual overturning by the U.S. Supreme Court of Roe v. Wade.

The high court currently is considering the legality of an abortion law out of Mississippi banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The eventual decision could result in Supreme Court's conservative majority limiting abortion rights or overturning the 1973 landmark case affirming a nationwide right to an abortion. 

The ballot committee estimates 2.2 million Michigan residents would lose abortion access if Michigan's 1931 law were to take effect should Roe v. Wade be overturned. 

The decision to have an abortion is "deeply personal" and should be one made after consultation with a doctor and loved ones, said Loren Khogali, executive director of ACLU of Michigan. 

"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," Khoghali said. "It is an all-hands-on-deck moment, and we will pursue every option available to secure reproductive freedom for all Michiganders."

After the Board of State Canvassers reviews the petition for technical compliance with language and form, Reproductive Freedom for All will begin collection signatures. 

Since the proposal would amend the constitution, the group must collect more signatures than a typical ballot initiative seeking to change state law. The committee must collect 425,059 signatures, about 10% of the votes cast in the 2018 general election, to get on the 2022 ballot. 

Signature gatherers will enter a crowded petition field, where seven other petitions are seeking placement on the 2022 ballot or adoption by the Legislature. Those initiatives would raise minimum wage, put limits on public health orders, tighten voter identification rules, cap short-term loan interest, create tax-incentivized education scholarships, change sentencing laws and demand a forensic audit of the 2022 election. 

The actual language submitted to canvassers Friday argues everyone has a "fundamental right to reproductive freedom," including the right to make decisions regarding pregnancy, sterilization, childbirth, abortion, contraception, postpartum and infertility care. 

The language argued those rights shouldn't be infringed upon "unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means."

It allows the state to regulate "abortion care after fetal viability," so long as it does not prohibit abortion that is medically needed to protect the "life or physical and mental health" of the woman. 

Fetal viability is defined in the language as the point in pregnancy when a medical professional determines the child can survive outside the womb without "extraordinary medical measures."

The language blocks the state from penalizing someone for their "pregnancy outcomes" or for penalizing someone who aided in an abortion if it was with the consent of the woman.