Lansing — A national group focused on electing Democratic women who support legal abortion access is planning to spend $20 million to help retain or flip legislatures in Michigan and other states.

Emily’s List is launching what it called “unprecedented” spending in state-level legislative battles, identifying Michigan as one of eight states where it seeks to upend a Republican majority in the state House.

President Stephanie Schriock said the group plans to add regional staff in key areas around the country to recruit female candidates, train them and help them find qualified staff to manage their campaigns.  

It’s unclear how much Emily’s List will spend in Michigan. State-by-state decisions will be made closer to the election “depending on what the best use of resources are,” Schriock said.

Emily’s List is focusing on several states where lawmakers will control redistricting efforts following the 2020 Census. Michigan voters already approved an independent commission to redraw political boundaries starting in 2022, but “the state is still incredibly important to us,” said Ianthe Metzger, deputy director of campaign communications for the group.

“Beyond redistricting, this effort is about electing women who will fight for women's reproductive freedom and building a pipeline of future women leaders, which is more important than ever,” she said.

Metzger noted GOP efforts across the country to overturn or chip away at Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that protects women’s right to choose whether to have an abortion.

In Michigan, the Republican-led state House and Senate in May approved legislation that would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as evacuation and dilation. Knowing she would veto the measure, lawmakers have not yet sent the measure to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk.

Instead, Right to Life of Michigan launched a petition drive for initiated legislation. If the anti-abortion group collects enough signatures, Republican lawmakers could enact the abortion law without Whitmer’s signature.

Emily’s List is “incredibly concerned about the petition drive moving through the state, and the fact that these anti-choice activists can circumvent the governor.,” Metzger said. “It's clear that the majority of Michiganders have no appetite for these kinds of extreme, dangerous laws, which is why they aren't taking it to voters.”

Separately, a committee called the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition on Wednesday officially launched its petition drive for an initiative that proposes to criminalize the act of performing an abortion after cardiac activity is detected in a fetus or embryo, which can happen as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

“We are extremely excited to be engaging in this petition drive on behalf of the most innocent of our society,” Committee President Corey Shankleton said in a statement. “With this effort, Michigan will play a significant role in sending Roe v Wade to the scrapheap of history.”

Organizers say they hope to collect nearly 500,000 signatures within a 180-day window to ensure they collect valid signatures from at least 340,000 registered voters.

The Michigan Constitution guarantees the right for citizens to initiate legislation by petition drive and gives legislators 40 days to enact a measure into law — without the governor’s signature — or send it to the ballot.

Emily’s List supported Whitmer in 2018, and  she “won her election handily on a platform that was explicitly pro-choice and pro-woman and families,” Metzger said.

Democrats also picked up seats the Legislature, but Republicans retained six-seat majorities in both the House and the Senate. Only the lower chamber is up for re-election next year.

As of April 20, the state House Republican Campaign Committee had a significant cash advantage over its Democratic counterpart. The GOP campaign arm reported a fundraising war chest of more than $1.2 million, nearly five times as large as the $247,554 in cash reserves reported by the Michigan House Democratic Fund.

Emily’s List is one of many outside groups expected to spend in Michigan in an attempt to influence elections here.

The group donated at least 67,750 to Michigan female legislative candidates in 2018 and gave $750,000 to federally organized funds that ran ads supporting Whitmer, according to data compiled by the non-profit Michigan Campaign Finance Network.

 Female candidates — primarily Democrats — had a strong showing in 2018, headlined by the election of Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and U.S. Reps. Elissa Slotkin of Holly and Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills.

But women remain a minority in the Michigan Legislature, where they hold 36 percent of all seats — 11 of 38 in the Senate and 42 of 110 in the House.

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