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Lansing — A Michigan group seeking to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected has stretched its timeline to submit petition signatures to the state till the end of February. 

The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition initially planned to submit its petition signatures to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson on Wednesday, the anniversary of the U.S Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects a woman’s right to have an abortion. 

But the group does not yet have enough signatures to meet the 340,047 signature threshold to qualify the issue for the ballot, said Rick Warzywak, a member of the coalition’s governing board. 

“It’s always a process,” he said. “If it’s too easy, it’s not worth doing.”

The group remains optimistic it will gather enough signatures for the heartbeat bill, which would ban abortions after the detection of fetal cardiac activity, usually around six weeks’ gestation. But if it should eventually fall short, the group has established a foundation of volunteers and organizers that could work again to qualify for a subsequent ballot, Warzywak said.

“New churches and new groups are opening up to us,” he said. “It’s a surprise how many people have not heard what we’re doing.”

The group has until May 27 to file its signatures with the secretary of state, but the signatures must be collected within 180 days of filing. Each time the coalition moves its submission deadline, it loses earlier signatures collected at the beginning of the petition drive.

Opposition from Right to Life of Michigan undoubtedly hurt the group’s effort, Warzywak said. 

Right to Life of Michigan, which collected signatures for a separate effort to ban dilation and evacuation abortions, had opposed the heartbeat coalition’s effort publicly out of concern that it would have a negative effect on anti-abortion efforts should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Right to Life of Michigan submitted 379,418 signatures for its own petition to the state on Dec. 23. 

If the Supreme Court ever overturns Roe v. Wade, a judge could allow the state to abide by the heartbeat law rather than Michigan’s existing abortion law, which outlaws abortion at every stage but is considered largely unenforceable under the 1973 Supreme Court ruling.

The heartbeat coalition has argued its petition has language that would prevent such an event. Further, the group has argued that a wave of introductions of similar legislation throughout the nation would provoke lawsuits and appeals that could spur the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the Roe v. Wade decision. 

The heartbeat coalition “wanted unity” with other anti-abortion groups, Warzywak said. 

“I don’t care what kind of initiative you’re doing, disunity always causes problems overall," he said.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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