Efforts to keep abortion legal in Michigan

There are now multiple efforts underway to make sure abortion remains legal and safe in Michigan if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.


Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has filed a lawsuit to keep abortion legal in Michigan if Roe v. Wade is overturned or weakened this year.

As part of the weekly series MichMash, Slate’s Cheyna Roth and WDET’s Jake Neher explain that it’s one of several attempts to maintain abortion rights in Michigan.

Michigan would revert to one of the strictest anti-abortion laws in the country if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the seminal case granting abortion rights in the U.S. Michigan’s law, which dates back to 1846, makes it a felony to carry out an abortion, except when it’s necessary to save the life of the mother.

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The Supreme Court will probably rule on its abortion case in June. But leaders in states like Michigan aren’t waiting around. The assumption in many places is that it will be up to individual states to decide whether women can have legal access to abortion services in a post-Roe world.

“We’re going straight to the Michigan Supreme Court to ask that they acknowledge women have the right to privacy, the right to bodily autonomy, under our due process clause and our equal protection clause in the Michigan Constitution,” Whitmer said on MSNBC after filing a lawsuit in the Oakland Circuit Court. She’s asking the Michigan Supreme Court to answer the questions that she poses in the case. That would bypass lower courts in this attempt to establish a state right to abortion here in Michigan.

“So, no matter how muddled Roe gets at the national level, Michigan women will have those rights going forward,” Whitmer said.

Planned Parenthood lawsuitsuit

But that’s not the only effort here in Michigan to make sure that woman have access to abortion services even if Roe is overturned. On the same day that Whitmer announced her lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of Michigan said it is filing its own lawsuit to block enforcement of the state’s abortion ban if it once again takes effect.

They name the Michigan Department of Attorney General as the defendant in that case. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel is a Democrat who strongly supports abortion rights. She has announced that she’s refusing to defend the state’s abortion ban. That means the state Legislature might end up intervening as a de facto defendant instead.

Related: What a post-Roe Michigan could look like

Ballot campaign to amend Michigan’s constitution

There is also a petition campaign gathering signatures to enshrine abortion rights in Michigan’s constitution. The group Reproductive Freedom For All would need to collect more than 425,000 signatures to get its question on the November ballot. If that happens and voters approve it, that would put an explicit right to abortion in the state constitution.

But abortion opponents are using this ballot initiative to criticize Whitmer’s lawsuit. They question why the governor is claiming the state constitution already protects abortion rights while this group tries to change the constitution to legalize abortion.

Legislative attempt to repeal Michigan’s abortion ban

And there’s also legislation at the state Capitol that would simply get rid of the old abortion ban that’s currently on the books. It would just go away under legislation sponsored by state Sen. Erica Geiss (D-Taylor). But both chambers remain dominated by Republicans, which means the legislation is unlikely to get so much as a committee hearing.

Whether any of these efforts are successful, Michigan is still probably a long way from knowing what life after Roe looks like.

More from MichMash:

Michigan Would Revert to Restrictive Abortion Ban If Roe v. Wade Is Overturned

Whitmer’s budget turns heads in election year

Three initiatives could start gathering signatures soon

Clerks plead for help from state leaders

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  • Jake Neher
    Jake Neher is senior producer for Detroit Today and host of MichMash for 101.9 WDET. He previously reported on the Michigan Legislature for the Michigan Public Radio Network.