Michigan abortion rights activists: We're putting issue on November ballot

Clara Hendrickson
Detroit Free Press

Organizers of a ballot measure to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan constitution said they turned in more voter signatures than any other constitutional amendment in state history to qualify for the November ballot. 

If the state's elections panel certifies the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment to appear on the ballot, voters could decide the future of abortion access in Michigan after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed a national constitutional right to abortion for nearly half a century.

"We've known for years that Roe was in jeopardy," said Dr. Michael Hertz, a retired OB-GYN and volunteer for the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign at a news briefing where supporters of the campaign celebrated turning in hundreds of thousands of signatures for the amendment, which would constitutionally guarantee the right to an abortion. 

He said that the campaign has seen a "groundswell of engagement" organizers said would help the amendment pass in November.

Elder Leslie Matthews, the transformational justice and faith and justice director for Michigan United and a volunteer for the abortion rights campaign fired up the room, leading supporters in a series of chants. "My vagina is my business," she said. "Remember every November because we see now there was a price to pay," she ended her speech to resounding applause.

Monday was the deadline for groups seeking to place constitutional amendments on the ballot to submit their petitions. 

Ballot measures to change Michigan's constitution must collect at least 425,059 voter signatures, but Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan said in a news release that 753,759 voters from every county in the state signed onto the abortion rights amendment to place it on the ballot for voters.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the nonprofit Michigan Voices have led the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign. 

Amertican Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Executive Director Loren Khogali rests her head on her daughter Hala Khogali while sitting on the stage after speaking during a news conference for Reproductive Freedom For All at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing on Monday, July 11, 2022. The Reproductive Freedom For All organization along with its affiliates turned in 753,759 signatures to the Michigan secretary of state to qualify for the Nov. 8, 2022 ballot to preserve abortion access and reproductive freedom in Michigan.

The campaign turned in its signatures Monday morning to the state's Bureau of Elections, according to a spokesperson for the Secretary of State's Office. More than 2,000 volunteers helped collect the signatures, according to campaign organizers.

"We have a veritable army of volunteers standing up to support this initiative" who will encourage their friends and family to support the amendment at the ballot box, said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Loren Khogali at the news briefing Monday.

While Michigan has a so-called trigger law from 1931on the books banning abortions, a judge issued an order temporarily suspending enforcement of the law, maintaining legal access to abortions for now.

Michigan’s near-total abortion ban provides no exceptions for abortion in cases of rape or incest. It does provide an exception for abortions "necessary to preserve the life of (any pregnant woman)." Opponents of the law have said that the ban does not provide a clear definition of what might warrant performing lifesaving abortion and who makes that determination. 

The Reproductive Freedom for All amendment proposes a new and general right to reproductive freedom in Michigan, including the right to access abortions and birth control without political interference.

The language of the proposed amendment leaves the door open to regulate abortions "after fetal viability." The amendment defines that as the point when a fetus could likely survive outside the uterus "without the application of extraordinary medical measures" as determined by a health care professional. The proposed amendment, however, would bar any prohibition of abortions deemed medically necessary "to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual."

More:Decision to overturn Roe v. Wade could shake up Michigan's midterm elections

More:Republican Legislature asks court to reverse injunction in Planned Parenthood lawsuit

Members of Fems for Democracy cheer on a speaker during a news conference for Reproductive Freedom For All at the Lansing Center in downtown Lansing on Monday, July 11, 2022.

In addition to abortion rights, voters may also have a chance to weigh in this fall on the state's election rules. Organizers of Promote the Vote 2022 filed signatures Monday to put a wide range of election changes to voters this fall, including early voting.

One constitutional amendment has already qualified for the ballot. The Voters for Transparency and Term Limits constitutional amendment seeks to reduce the total number of years a state lawmaker can serve from 14 years to 12 years, but allow a lawmaker to serve all 12 years in either the state House or state Senate. Currently, state representatives can only serve three two-year terms and state senators can only serve two four-year terms. Voters amended the state constitution in 1992 to establish the state's current term limits. 

The amendment would also subject the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general and state lawmakers to disclose their personal finances. 

The Michigan Legislature approved the measure for placement on the November ballot earlier this year, allowing organizers to skip having to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures to put the proposal to voters.  

The Board of State Canvassers must determine that the organizers of the Reproductive Freedom for All and Promote the Vote amendments collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot at least two months before the general election. 

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.