US judge strikes down Michigan’s 1931 anti-abortion law

Decision is the latest development in a contentious battle to shape the future of abortion rights in the US state.

Pro-abortion rights protest in Jackson, Mississippi.
Michigan's decades-old abortion law, which was long dormant before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, violates the Michigan Constitution, the judge wrote [File: Liliana Salgado/Reuters]

A judge in the United States has struck down Michigan’s 1931 anti-abortion law, months after suspending it, the latest development over abortion rights in a US state where the issue is being argued in courtrooms and, possibly, at the ballot box.

The law, which was long dormant before the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June, violates the Michigan Constitution, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher said on Wednesday.

“A law denying safe, routine medical care not only denies women of their ability to control their bodies and their lives — it denies them of their dignity,” Gleicher of the Court of Claims wrote. “Michigan’s Constitution forbids this violation of due process.”

The decision comes as the Michigan Supreme Court is considering whether to place a proposed amendment on the November 8 ballot that would add abortion rights to the state constitution. A Friday deadline is looming.

Supporters submitted more than 700,000 signatures, easily clearing the threshold. But a tie vote by the Board of State Canvassers over spacing issues on the petition has kept it off the ballot so far.

In the case handled by Gleicher, the 1931 law makes it a crime to perform abortions unless the life of the mother is in danger.

The judge found the law “compels motherhood” and prevents a woman from determining the “shape of her present and future life”.

The law “forces a pregnant woman to forgo her reproductive choices and to instead serve as ‘an involuntary vessel entitled to no more respect than other forms of collectively owned property'”, Gleicher wrote, quoting constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe.

She suspended the law in May with an injunction. Her latest decision applies to all state and local prosecutors in Michigan. The Republican-controlled House and Senate can appeal the ruling, which came in a lawsuit from Planned Parenthood.

Gleicher acknowledged in July that she has been a regular donor to the organisation and gave $1,000 to the campaigns of Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats who support abortion rights.

But that support was not a reason to pass the case to another judge, said Gleicher, who also serves as chief judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals.

In a separate lawsuit, Whitmer has repeatedly asked the state Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and settle the status of the 1931 law. The court has not decided whether to intervene.

Source: The Associated Press