Group to submit signatures to ban abortion procedure before Christmas

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Right to Life of Michigan plans to submit the results of its statewide petition drive in the coming days, a move that could eventually land a proposed ban on a specific abortion procedure before the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Right to Life targeted Thursday for when it wanted to conclude signature gathering for its Michigan Values Life campaign to end dilation and evacuation abortions, a common second trimester abortion procedure, which opponents call “dismemberment abortion."

Chris Gast, spokesman for the organization, said the drive will finish with more than 374,000 signatures. The final number will depend on how many signatures volunteers submit through the mail in the next days, Gast said.

Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan, joins other anti-abortion advocates to officially launch a ballot drive to restrict a common second-trimester abortion procedure opponents call "dismemberment," and known medically as dilation and evacuation, during a news conference Wednesday, June 26, 2019, in Lansing.

The threshold to get a citizen-initiated proposal before the Legislature is 340,047 signatures collected within 180 days — a process of enacting a law that wouldn't require the signature of Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who opposes the proposal.

Groups usually submit many more signatures than are required because they expect some signatures to be declared invalid.

"We usually have a very high final signature accuracy rate above 90%, so we’re confident we’ll have more than the 340,047 valid signatures required," Gast said in an email.

Gast said the campaign will submit the signatures to the Michigan Secretary of State next week or on Dec. 23. Then it will be up to the Board of State Canvassers to determine if the group has collected enough valid signatures from registered voters.

If the board determines the drive reached the required threshold, the Legislature, which has already voted in favor of similar bills, could approve the proposal, making it law.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which supports abortion rights, plans to use "every tool available" to stop the proposal from becoming law, said Angela Vasquez-Giroux, the organization's spokeswoman.

“In every other state where this policy has been challenged, it’s been ruled unconstitutional," Vasquez-Giroux said in an email. She added, "We will challenge it at every opportunity — from ensuring the petitions are valid to its blatant and inevitable unconstitutionality if passed into law."

Another group called the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition has been circulating petitions for a proposal to prohibit a person from performing an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, usually about six weeks' gestation. 

The group had originally planned to conclude its signature gathering on Dec. 30 but now plans to end its drive on Jan. 22. That date is the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which protects a woman's right to have an abortion.

Corey Shankleton, president of the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, said he's confident his group will be able to hit the signature threshold.