Abortion Activists Launch Petition to Allow Michigan Voters Chance to Overturn Pre-Roe Law

A ballot drive launched Friday in Michigan could enshrine a woman's right to an abortion in the state constitution.

Reproductive Freedom for All created the petition to affirm the right for women to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference. These decisions include abortion and birth control.

There are multiple advocacy groups working with Reproductive Freedom for All. Among these groups are Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan and Michigan Voices.

The petition arrived as the U.S. Supreme Court considers weakening or overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. About 425,000 valid voter signatures are needed for the ballot to be placed before the electorate in November.

Michigan has in place a 90-year-old abortion ban, which makes it a felony to use an instrument or administer any substance with the intent to "procure the miscarriage" for a woman unless it is necessary to preserve her life. This law is unenforced today, thanks to Roe v. Wade, but if the Supreme Court overrules the case, the 1800s-era law will go back into effect. It's unclear if that would happen immediately or after some sort of grace period.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to repeal the law, though Republican legislative leaders have opposed the move. Michigan is among eight states with unenforced, pre-Roe abortion bans.

According to Roe v. Wade, it is a woman's liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restrictions. It went into effect on Jan. 22, 1973. A follow-up decision was made in 1992 that prevents states from banning abortion before viability, which is around 24 weeks of pregnancy and when a fetus can survive outside the womb.

Last month, the high court heard arguments on whether to uphold Mississippi's ban on abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy. The decision is expected next summer.

Abortion Activists
Activists participate in a candlelight vigil on abortion rights in front of U.S. Supreme Court December 13, 2021 in Washington, DC. ShutDownDC held the event to discuss abortion rights and to mark the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade landmark decision. Alex Wong/Getty Images

Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said the vast majority of residents want abortion to remain legal and accessible. The state is at a "critical moment in history for abortion access," she said.

"Now is the moment for us to come together to protect this fundamental right for Michigan as we hold our collective breath for the Supreme Court's ruling," said Loren Khogali, the executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

The state's attorney general, Democrat Dana Nessel, and at least one local prosecutor have said they would not enforce the 1931 ban. But Whitmer and Nessel are up for reelection this year, when Republicans are expected to benefit from political tailwinds because the party that controls the White House generally fairs worse in the first midterm election after it assumes the presidency.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.