While court battles wage over the future of abortion access, a petition could put that right to a vote of the people.
Need to Know
- The “Reproductive Freedom for All” initiative aims to amend the state Constitution to guarantee the right to abortion and other reproductive health care in Michigan.
- The petition requires 425,000 signatures by July 11 to make the November ballot.
- The initiative defends the right to contraception, which some fear could be at risk.
MICHIGAN—Voters may soon have a say on whether abortion remains legal in Michigan.
Signature gatherers are recruiting residents to sign “Reproductive Freedom for All,” a petition that would add the right to an abortion into the state Constitution. If the proposed constitutional amendment receives enough valid signatures by next month, voters—instead of politicians or judges—could decide whether or not the medical procedure can legally continue in Michigan after Roe v. Wade was recently overturned.
“This is an all-hands-on-deck moment,” Sommer Foster, co-executive director of Michigan Voices, a group that has been garnering support for the petition, said on a press call Friday. “The Supreme Court has made clear that it is up to us to come together to protect reproductive freedom.”
The initiative aims to clarify that Michigan citizens may legally receive abortions in most cases by formally enshrining the right into the state’s Constitution, overruling a dormant, decades-old ban that could take effect at any moment. If the measure is successful, the right to an abortion in Michigan would become virtually immune to challenges from the Michigan Legislature or future political figures.
First, however, organizers must submit about 425,000 valid signatures to the state’s Bureau of Elections by July 11—a threshold which represents 10% of the votes in the last gubernatorial election. The group is on track to meet those numbers, organizers told The ‘Gander on Monday, which would send the issue to voters in November’s general election. A simple majority could then decide whether to amend the state Constitution to include the right to an abortion.
What’s the plan?
Abortion is still legal in Michigan, but the longstanding right teeters in a fragile political balance.
Michigan has a 1931 state law that bans abortions in nearly all cases, but a temporary injunction by a state judge has halted enforcement of the law while the courts decide whether or not the old ban runs afoul of the state Constitution. If the injunction is lifted or courts find that abortion isn’t expressly included in either the privacy or due process clauses, the 1931 law would take immediate effect, criminalizing abortion procedures in all cases except to save the life of the mother.
The Reproductive Freedom for All proposal, if voted into the state Constitution, would settle the legal debate by affirmatively asserting that pre-viability abortion—meaning, the fetus is not yet capable of surviving outside the womb—is a right guaranteed to all Michigan residents.
Though abortion is the primary right asserted by the petition, it isn’t the only one.
Reproductive Freedom for All would similarly secure the right to contraception, miscarriage management, prenatal care, and postpartum management—by enshrining those as constitutional rights that could not be removed by state lawmakers without a vote of the public. It would also prevent prosecution of those who legally assisted a willing party in receiving an abortion; Michigan’s current law, which isn’t in effect because of the injunction, prosecutes doctors who perform abortions.
As a constitutional amendment, the petition could create a newfound right to reproductive health care:
Constitutional amendment seeking to: establish new individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility; allow state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability unless needed to protect patient’s life or physical or mental health; forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment, a; and invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.— State-approved summary of Reproductive Freedom for All
Without the injunction in place, Michigan would’ve become one of nearly two dozen states to ban or severely restrict access to abortion following last week’s Supreme Court decision overturning Roe.
If a decision is reached to rescind the court’s injunction or a higher court overrules the decision, Michigan’s existing abortion law from 1931 would take effect again.
If the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal passes, it essentially would force the abortion ban out-of-step with the state Constitution—nullifying the old law.
Who supports the petition?
Proponents include the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Planned Parenthood. They say that the amendment is the most surefire way to protect reproductive health care in Michigan, as it reflects the public will and would be immune to pressure from the courts or politicians.
“If successful, the measure would amend Michigan’s constitution and permanently protect reproductive freedom. Getting involved with the ballot effort is the best action Michiganders can take to protect the right to safe, legal abortion in our state,” said Ashlea Phenicie, interim communications director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.
Supporters are quick to point out that most Michigan residents support the right of a woman to have an abortion. A January poll found that 56% of Michigan residents identified as “pro-choice” while 34% identified as “pro-life.” Another poll found most Americans strongly opposed overturning Roe v. Wade.
Opponents of the amendment include Catholic organizations, the Republican party, and a group formed in opposition called “Citizens to Support MI Women and Children.” Some critics of the petition have dubbed Reproductive Freedom for All as the “anything goes abortion amendment,” according to the Detroit Free Press, but that claim doesn’t hold up against the actual language of the petition.
The Reproductive Freedom for All amendment would explicitly allows state legislators to pass laws that restrict and limit how abortions can be performed after a fetus is deemed “viable” by two or more physicians. The petition would only cement the right to an abortion before that point and clarify that abortions must be allowed to save the life of a mother, which some Republican candidates are targeting.
Could lawmakers repeal or change the proposal?
Michigan’s Constitution is much tougher to change than the average law. Those changes can only be pursued via petition or a two-thirds vote of the Legislature. Either way, voters always have the final say.
“Amending the state constitution would provide the most enduring protection to abortion and to reproductive freedom,” added Loren Khogali, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.
The amendment, if passed, would also naturally scrap all laws that conflict with it since they would be at odds with the state Constitution; Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban would become a figment of the past.
Where can I sign?
You need to sign the petition in person, per state law.
Upcoming events this week include:
Detroit Ink: 19845 W McNichols Rd., Detroit, Tuesday, June 28 12 – 8pm EDT
Hunter Park: 511 S Holmes St., Lansing, Tuesday, June 28 4 – 6pm EDT
Brewery Vivant: 925 Cherry St. SE, Grand Rapids, Tuesday, June 28 5:30 – 7pm EDT
Charlevoix Farmers Market: 307 Bridge St., Charlevoix, Thursday, June 30 8:30 – 11:30am EDT
Women’s Rights Protest: 225 W Main St., Midland, Wednesday, June 29 4 – 8pm EDT
Marquette Farmers Market: 112 S 3rd St., Marquette, Wednesday, June 29 4 – 7pm EDT
There are many more opportunities to sign the petition. A full list can be found here.