LANSING—Activists on Thursday asked the Michigan Supreme Court to approve a November ballot initiative that would allow voters to have a say on whether reproductive rights are protected in Michigan.
Reproductive Freedom for All filed its request with the high court after the state canvassing board rejected the ballot question on Wednesday. It deadlocked 2-2 along partisan lines, with a pair of Republicans citing what they called spacing errors in the petitions calling for the ballot question.
Abortion-rights supporters say it’s important for state residents to be able to weigh in on the abortion question—especially because of a 1931 law that would ban all abortions except to save the life of the mother in Michigan. Abortion opponents had hoped the law would be triggered by the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in June, but the law has been blocked by months of court battles.
For now, abortion remains legal in the state and prosecutors have been barred from enforcing the ban.
In the filing, the group asked the court to order the Board of State Canvassers to certify the question for the November ballot, and to do so by Wednesday. That would give board members time to certify the initiative before the board’s meeting on Sept. 9—which also is the deadline set by state law for the board to certify the ballot to the Secretary of State.
RFFA submitted more than 750,000 signatures, attorneys for the group wrote, making it the largest number submitted for a ballot initiative in state history. State law requires a minimum of about 425,000 signatures, and state officials determined last week that the petition contained nearly 600,000.
RFFA said the volume of signatories demonstrated “widespread grassroots support.”
“This Court should safeguard the right of the People to exercise their political power and protect it from strained interpretations of law that stand to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters,” attorneys argued.
Abortion-rights supporters have criticized the Republican members of the state board—a panel once seen as handling largely routine, administrative matters—as bowing to political pressure to try to stop the measure from appearing on the ballot.
RFFA argued in its filing to the Michigan Supreme Court that its petitions met all prerequisites to appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, both in number of signatures and the format, and that the Board of State Canvassers overstepped its authority, violating “its clear legal duty,” when it rejected the initiative.
No party has disputed that the group turned in enough signatures, RFFA noted. Rather, opponents “resorted to hyperbole” regarding the spacing of language on the petition, calling the small spaces between some words “gibberish” and “incomprehensible argle-bargle,” the group said in its filing.
They argue that Michigan election law doesn’t provide requirements for spacing and said the opponents “are unable to point to a single individual that did not understand” the petition.
John Pirich, a Michigan election law expert, said that the petition’s language could be understood even with the spacing issues and that “any language that would be in doubt will be printed with the proper spacing in the constitution.”
In a statement Wednesday, abortion-rights supporters said they are confident the court will decide in their favor and order the initiative go before voters on the November ballot. A majority of justices were put on the court by Democrats.
Abortion opponents protested outside of Wednesday’s board meeting, their yells at times audible inside the hearing room. The board also heard several hours of public comment, primarily from people who oppose abortion and told the board the procedure is immoral.
‘Gander Editor Kyle Kaminski contributed to this report.