Michigan Democrats to Repeal Last Remnants of 1931 Abortion Ban

Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on June 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

By Kyle Kaminski

March 1, 2023

LANSING—Legislation that would erase an unenforceable abortion ban in Michigan is now headed to a vote in the state Senate after advancing from a committee on Wednesday.

The package of bills—which were sponsored by several Democratic legislators shortly after they gained a majority in both chambers this year—would repeal a 1931 statute that criminalizes abortion. 

It would also effectively align Michigan law with the newly amended State Constitution under Proposal 3, a ballot initiative that passed with 57% of the vote last November, and added clear language into the state Constitution that protects the right to an abortion.

After about an hour of testimony on Wednesday, the Senate Health Policy Committee voted 6-4 to advance the bills to the Senate floor, recommending they be passed with immediate effect.

“The passage of Proposal 3 shows us clearly that people want to see this antiquated, zombie law repealed. It’s imperative that we make this technical cleanup so we are in alignment with what the State Constitution says,” said Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor). “The people of Michigan decided, and now it is imperative for the Legislature to abide by the will of the people.”

Cleaning Up the Books

The dormant 1931 law targeted by the bills makes it a crime to perform an abortion in Michigan, unless the life of the mother is in danger. An injunction issued by Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher has effectively prevented the law from being enforced anywhere in Michigan since last summer, and another ruling in September declared the law to be unconstitutional. 

Under the State Constitution, the passage of Proposal 3 technically supersedes the abortion ban that’s set to be repealed—but advocates for reproductive freedom testified that it’s still important for lawmakers to clean up the books and ensure that state law aligns with the will of the people.

Sen. Erika Geiss (right) testifies alongside Dr. Sarah Wallet, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

“It’s terrifying to know that a nearly century-old law remains on Michigan’s books that threatens to label me a felon,” said Dr. Sarah Wallet, chief medical operating officer for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. “Simply its continued existence in Michigan’s law books poses an ever-present threat that’s intimidating for both patients and doctors alike.”

Dr. Pooja Patel, a practicing resident physician OBGYN, told lawmakers that the unenforceable abortion law—while no longer constitutional—can still create confusion for patients and doctors.

“It puts physicians in untenable positions where they’re forced to comply with the law or make the safest healthcare decisions for their patients,” she said. “This is not in line with good healthcare. It’s not in the best interests of patients. This is not what we want as physicians.”

Merissa Kovach, legislative director for the ACLU of Michigan, said the state’s 1931 law now “very clearly stands in direct contradiction” to the state Constitution, and must be repealed. 

“This body, in fact, has a mandate to do that based on what voters overwhelmingly decided in November. There’s a real danger in letting unconstitutional laws remain on the books,” Kovach added. “Abortion is healthcare, and Michiganders deserve to make decisions for themselves.”

What Happens Now?

Geiss, who sponsored the Senate bill to repeal the abortion ban, testified that state lawmakers are now both legally and ethically responsible for ensuring the law is repealed once and for all. 

“The public spoke, and they have demanded that we protect reproductive rights and freedoms,” Geiss testified, also urging her colleagues to have the old state law “struck down completely.”

All six Democrats on the Senate Health Policy Committee voted to advance the repeal legislation to the Senate Floor. Four Republicans—Sens. Michael Webber, Roger Hauck, Mark Huizenga, and Jim Runestad—voted to keep the archaic abortion ban written in state law.

A House panel also advanced a similar legislation on Wednesday to repeal the 1931 statute. Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia), who sponsored one of the bills, told the Detroit News the repeal will bring the state “one step closer to getting this archaic, criminal ban off our books.”

The laws are expected to be repealed largely along party lines in the coming weeks. Democrats are also reportedly eying other abortion-related changes to state law—including reducing the 24-hour waiting period for abortions and eliminating other barriers to healthcare.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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