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Michigan choice backers are newly alarmed, activated to defend abortion rights

May 03, 2022, 4:16 PM by  Alan Stamm

Abortion access advocates are mobilizing with fresh fervor in Michigan now that an expected setback is confirmed, at least preliminarily.

The leak of a draft Supreme Court decision to uphold a state's abortion ban on a 6-3 vote energizes pro-choice politicians, groups and residents. "Our deepest fears are coming true," posts Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, which hastily organized a 5 p.m. rally today at the state Capitol. "We are at a crisis moment for abortion access." 

(Illustration: Reproductive Freedom for All)

An Ann Arbor demonstration also is scheduled next week (details below). Voices of resolve are raised in Lansing, among Michigan's congressional delegation and by activists statewide.

Monday night's Politico scoop, which includes the text of Justice Samuel Alito's first-draft majority opinion, is confirmed. In a three-paragraph statement Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts says the document is real, but “does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case.”

The leak shows that five justices decided, as of February, to uphold a Mississippi law banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The state's "legitimate interests ... include respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development," Alito writes.

If his draft becomes the law of the land, overturning the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a constitutional right to abortion, legislatures will be free to restrict the medical procedure in nearly all circumstances. "A law that barred abortions necessary to save the life of the mother would probably not survive rational-basis scrutiny," Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes Tuesday.

Michigan felony law from 1931

In Michigan, abortion access will immediately become illegal because of a 1931 law invalidated by Roe v. Wade -- but never removed. That statute makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions, with no rape or incest exceptions. The Republican-dominated legislature is highly likely to block repeal efforts, which already are introduced in both chambers.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, last December called the Depression Era law "terrific." If the Roe ruling is reversed, he told reporters, "then Michigan stands very, very well-positioned." [Source: MLive]

State Attorney General Dana Nessel and some county prosecutors say they wouldn't enforce the old ban, "which could lead to a bizarre patchwork where abortions occur in some counties but not others," tweets Barbara McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor and former top federal prosecutor in Detroit. "But the chilling effect of a criminal law will deter most providers from performing abortions anyway."

(File photo: Reproductive Freedom for All)

In 2020, the most recent data available, 29,669 induced abortions were recorded in Michigan -- an 8.5-percent increase over 2019, according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. That's roughly one abortion for every four live births.

"We're going to fight like hell" to keep abortion legal, the state Planned Parenthood advocacy arm tweets. It plans a "Bans Off Our Bodies" rally in Ann Arbor from 2-4 p.m. May 14, a Saturday, at a location disclosed only to those who register.

Earlier moves to counter the foreshadowed decision have been under way in Michigan.

Urgent petition scramble 

A coalition that includes the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and Michigan Voices in March launched a petition drive to amend the state constitution to guarantee abortion access and other reproductive rights.

That initiative is gathering signatures to put the question on Nov. 8 ballots -- a massive task, even with fresh urgency. The effort needs 425,059 valid signatures (10 percent of gubernatorial votes in 2018) by July 11. [Petitions can be mailed to those who ask here.] 

The coalition, Reproductive Freedom for All, says it added roughly 900 volunteer signature-collectors Tuesday.

It previously had around 2,000 total volunteers, Dana Chicklas of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan tells Axios Detroit.

"I think in the last 24 hours or so we’ve seen [support] just explode exponentially,” said Sommer Foster, co-executive director of Michigan Voices, another coalition partner.

"Unfortunately, it takes a horrific draft decision leak to have people see what’s happening," Chicklas added.

If qualified for the ballot and passed, it would take effect 45 days later.

In addition, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last month filed a lawsuit leveraging her executive authority to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately resolve whether the state constitution can and should protect access to abortion and reproductive rights. In a parallel legal action, Planned Parenthood of Michigan sued to block the 1931 abortion ban that has been unenforceable since 1973.

The governor now tweets:

These Michigan Democrats also speak out: 

Sen. Debbie Stabenow: "This is outrageous! Overturning Roe v. Wade will have extreme consequences for women across the country."

Sen. Gary Peters: "Women should be able to make their own health care decisions with their families and doctors—not politicians. Overturning Roe v Wade would have disastrous consequences for people in Michigan and across the country. ... This decision ... will result in very real and tragic consequences for people from all walks of life. And it sends a horrible signal for the future of our country."

Rep. Brenda Lawrence, Southfield: "This is gut-wrenching. We cannot wait any longer to protect the right to an abortion. The House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act back in September. It’s time for the Senate to act now. ... We cannot give up this fight."

Rep. Haley Stevens, Waterford: "Overturning Roe v. Wade would have devastating consequences for women in this country, and will disproportionally impact those with the fewest resources. We will not go back and undo 50 years of progress. The Senate must pass the Women's Health Protection Act to codify Roe."

Rep. Debbie Dingell, Dearborn: "This draft opinion shows how political the Supreme Court has become. It ... contradicts testimony of some justices in their Supreme Court confirmation hearings and once again reinforces the dangers facing our democracy. "

(Photo: American Civil Liberties Union)

Rep. Andy Levin, Bloomfield Hills: "This right-wing Supreme Court is on the precipice of striking down one of the most important rights in this country—the right to make decisions about our own bodies. ... People will continue to receive abortions, but they will too often become dangerous and unsafe procedures that force pregnant people to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles and put themselves in harm's way."

Rep. Dan Kildee, Flint: "Women and their doctors should be trusted to make their own health care decisions. Politicians and judges should not be dictating to Americans what they can do with their own bodies."

Dana Nessel, state attorney general: "Women in Michigan should be terrified right now. Vote like your life depends on it."

♦ Barb Byrum, Ingham County clerk: "This will not end abortions. It will end safe abortions. ... This coming weekend is Mother’s Day. But this year, the Republicans are giving the mothers of this country the gift of no longer having autonomy over their body and taking away their ability to determine their own future."

♦ Gabriella , Detroit Council member: "It’s an attack on a woman’s right to choose, and an attack on women’s livelihoods and access to healthcare. Because banning abortions doesn't stop abortions; it just stops safe abortions." 

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