A proposal to guard abortion rights in Michigan is back on the November ballot, because of the state’s Supreme Court.
The proposal would amend Michigan’s Structure, codifying an array of reproductive rights which might be currently in jeopardy because of this summer’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overruling Roe v. Wade.
With Roe not in force, states have the ability to pass latest laws prohibiting abortion or to implement old bans which might be still on the books. The latter is an especially real possibility in Michigan, where a 1931 law prohibits abortion at any stage of pregnancy and in just about all circumstances.
The law will not be being enforced in the intervening time, because of several lower court rulings that prevent prosecutors from bringing cases. But abortion rights opponents have appealed those decisions.
The goal of the abortion rights amendment is to settle these questions once and for all, in order that neither judges nor lawmakers could take away abortion access in Michigan. And that concept appears to have an excellent deal of support.
A Record Number Of Signatures, Plus A Few Typos
In July, organizers submitted petitions supporting the amendment with greater than 750,000 signatures from across the state. That was nearly twice as many as vital, and consistent with the strong support for abortion rights amongst Michiganders that recent polling has detected.
But opponents of the measure said those petitions weren’t valid, due to what was principally a series of typos: Spaces between among the words weren’t readily visible, because of a glitch within the printing. This made the petitions incomprehensible, opponents claimed, and thus not valid as proof the amendment had enough support to qualify for the ballot.
Last week, that argument prevailed with the 2 Republicans who sit on Michigan’s four-person election board. The 2 Republicans voted against authorizing the amendment, producing a deadlock along party lines.
If that had been the ultimate word, the amendment wouldn’t be on the November ballot.
But immediately after the elections board voted, the amendment’s supporters asked the state Supreme Court to intervene, arguing that the meaning of the amendment was clear even with the compressed words ― and that the elections board had no authority to dam an initiative when it so clearly had enough public support.
On Thursday, the court agreed that the amendment’s meaning was clear, and ordered the election board to certify the amendment. The board next meets on Friday, which can also be the deadline for county clerks to finalize November ballot designs.
Sharp Words In Dueling Opinions
The vote on the seven-member court was 5-2, and in a temporary, unsigned opinion, the bulk explained that “the meaning of the words has not modified by the alleged insufficient spacing between them.”
But several justices chimed in with more thoughts ― including Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, who was a part of the bulk and wrote a stinging concurring opinion.
“Seven hundred fifty three thousand and 7 hundred fifty nine Michiganders signed this proposal ― greater than have ever signed any proposal in Michigan’s history,” McCormack wrote.
Noting that the challengers produced no evidence that any voters were actually confused by the wording, McCormack accused those opponents of attempting to “disenfranchise thousands and thousands of Michiganders … because they think they’ve identified a technicality that permits them to achieve this, a game of gotcha gone very bad.”
Justice Brian Zahra, certainly one of the 2 dissenters, had some pointed words of his own. He protested the choice to issue a ruling without oral argument, then zeroed in on the substantive dispute ― and why, in his opinion, it mattered.
“The one thing harder to discern than the disputed portions of the text of the amendment is why the proponents of the amendment proceeded to flow into a petition that plainly didn’t conform to the shape and content of the petition preapproved by the Bureau of Elections,” Zahra wrote.
A Legal Decision With Potentially Big Political Effects
The amendment’s placement on the ballot could have a significant effect on the final result of other races, by increasing turnout amongst voters who support abortion rights.
That’s more likely to help candidates who also support abortion rights ― including incumbent Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Attorney General Dana Nessel (D), each of whom are up for reelection and have made abortion a central focus of their campaigns.
It could also help Democrats in search of U.S. House seats, including several in tightly contested races whose outcomes could effectively determine which party controls the chamber starting in January.
The caveat is that the polls might be improper: The amendment may not be as popular because it seems. Or sentiments could change as opponents hammer away at it.
If that happens, then the amendment could fail and its supporters running for office could lose ― which, within the case of the governor’s race, would mean a victory for Republican Tudor Dixon.
Dixon has said she supports the 1931 ban, including its lack of exceptions for rape and incest. If there’s no latest amendment within the state structure and he or she’s the one within the governor’s office, then abortion may not be legal in Michigan for for much longer.