Michigan voters to decide future of abortion in US state

Recent poll shows a majority of likely Michigan voters in November midterms support proposal to protect abortion rights.

Abortion rights advocates at a protest
Abortion rights protesters attend a rally in Lansing, Michigan in June [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

An election board in the US state of Michigan has approved a request to put a proposal guaranteeing abortion rights before voters in the November midterm elections, in the latest battle over abortion in the United States.

A record number of signatures were gathered in support of leaving it up to voters to decide on the proposal, which would amend the state’s constitution to enshrine reproductive rights. The election board’s decision on Friday followed a ruling by the state’s Supreme Court the day before.

“We are energized and motivated now more than ever to restore the protections that were lost under Roe,” Reproductive Freedom for All spokesperson Darci McConnell said in a statement following the high court’s decision.

Since the US Supreme Court in June overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which guaranteed the right to abortion, abortion rights have been thrown into flux across the country.

The Michigan election board’s decision marks the end of a long and contentious fight between abortion rights advocates who pushed to put the issue before voters and Republicans who sought to block that effort.

Two Republican members of the four-person board had shot down the proposal last week, waving aside the more than 750,000 signatures collected in favour of the initiative. They said some spacing on the petition that made it unclear was the reason they turned it down.

The issue then went before the state’s Democratic-leaning Supreme Court, which dismissed those complaints in a ruling on September 8.

Chief Justice Bridget McCormack derisively called the highly technical complaints a “game of gotcha gone very bad” and said the words on the petition were legible and in the correct order.

Republican members of the panel have denied suggestions that their efforts to block the initiative were politically motivated. “We’ve gotten that clarity,” said Republican board member Tony Daunt, who did not speak to McCormack’s criticism.

“There was never any doubt in my mind … what we were going to do” once the court issued its decision, he added.

Abortion rights advocates cheered and applauded when the board voted 4-0 on Friday to add the proposal to the ballot. The amendment would affirm the right of residents to make pregnancy-related decisions, including on abortion and birth control, without interference.

A 1931 abortion ban on the books in Michigan was struck down in court earlier this week. But abortion rights advocates argued that the decision could be reversed in the future, saying an amendment to the state constitution is the surest path forward.

“The best way to protect the right to choose in Michigan is to put it in the state constitution,” said Mark Brewer, a lawyer who represents several reproductive rights groups in Michigan.

“We collected when it was so cold that our fingers barely worked and when it was so hot that we could barely stand,” said Elizabeth Buckner, one of two volunteers who collected signatures and addressed the board before the vote. “We did our job. Now, I’m asking you to do your job.”

Democrats in the state also hoped that the initiative would bolster their chances in the upcoming elections, giving them an opportunity to put unpopular Republican abortion bans front and centre in the final stretch of their campaigns.

The state’s Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, for example, has made abortion rights a focus of her campaign for re-election.

In the Republican stronghold of Kansas, voters rejected a proposed abortion ban by overwhelming margins. Democrats hoped that perceived Republican overreach on abortion rights would produce a backlash at the ballot box that would work in their favour.

A poll released earlier this week by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV suggested abortion and women’s rights were the top issue motivating Michigan residents in the run-up to the November elections. It also indicated a majority of likely voters supported the amendment to protect abortion rights.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies