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Michigan: Voters Enshrine Abortion Rights into State Constitution

Since the case of Dobbs versus Jackson Women’s Health Organization was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) this past June, we have been jumping from US state to US state, region by region, exploring the legal situation surrounding abortion, reproductive care, and related issues, such as fertility treatment and contraception, which may also be in the crosshairs of anti-abortion activists and politicians. The Dobbs case concerned Mississippi’s Gestational Age Act, written to prohibit all abortions subsequent to 15 weeks gestation, with very few exceptions. Along with upholding the Mississippi law with a 6-3 majority, the SCOTUS used the case to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision, with a 5-4 majority. The United States is thus now a patchwork of very different laws when it comes to reproduction and abortion in particular, and pregnancy care itself is suffering in some states. Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban that caused the overturning of Roe did not even go into effect, because the state already had a trigger law that took precedence, banning abortion throughout pregnancy, rather than just beyond 15 weeks.

 

Other US states, such as Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, and Missouri, also are extremely hostile to the right to choose, while various pro-choice states, such as New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington are trying to help out-of-state abortion seekers. Some states, such as Florida, have an intermediate situation. In Florida, you can have an abortion up through the 15th week, but even that right stands on shaky ground that depends a lot on outcomes of the November election (which may have taken place by the time that this post publishes). Meanwhile, there are some states in which abortion rights are being upheld, because of the courts or the state constitution, or both. Such states include Kansas, Alaska, Montana, and Ohio and also today’s highlighted state, Michigan.

 

Known as the “Wolverine State,” as well as the “Great Lakes State”, Michigan is led by a governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who has been fighting to protect the right to choose. She was opposed in the November 8 gubernatorial election by a staunch opponent of abortion rights, but she was reelected by a wide margin. This recent election was critical, because the SCOTUS Dobbs decision this past June triggered a law from the year 1931 to go into effect, criminalizing abortion in Michigan. This law was blocked by a Michigan court and the issue continued through the Michigan court system, culminating with the Michigan Supreme Court putting the issue on the ballot for votes in the election. In that election, Michigan voters were presented with “Proposal 3”, calling for the Michigan Constitution to be amended to protect the right to choose. The proposal passed, thus amending the Michigan Constitution to guarantee abortion rights. Michigan is a state that has a fair amount of anti-abortion activists and politicians, but it’s also a state, in which the electorate has demonstrated an interest in pragmatic issues. Given what happened recently in Kansas, in which voters overwhelmingly voted to keep protection of the right to abortion in their state constitution, even with the Kansas electorate being overwhelmingly Republican. I would would have been extremely surprised, had Michiganders not voted for Proposal 3, but they did. The 1931 law is thus not valid and we can now call Michigan an abortion-safe state.

 

This means that abortion services will be available in Michigan up to the point of fetal viability, roughly 24-26 weeks gestation. You could have a a procedural abortion in Michigan any time up to that point. Additionally, you would be able to have a medication abortion up to 77 days (11 weeks) gestation. This would not have been the case, had things not gone well on November 8 with Proposal 3. Michigan women seeking abortions would have had to travel to the Chicago area to receive abortion care there. But now, in addition to caring for its own women with abortion care, Michigan could end being a destination for abortion seekers other states. One such state that might be a source of abortion travelers is neighboring Wisconsin, where voters voted overwhelmingly in favor of repealing the abortion ban from the year 1849 that has been in effect, due to Dobbs, but where abortion rights still may be on shaky grounds.

David Warmflash
Dr. David Warmflash is a science communicator and physician with a research background in astrobiology and space medicine. He has completed research fellowships at NASA Johnson Space Center, the University of Pennsylvania, and Brandeis University. Since 2002, he has been collaborating with The Planetary Society on experiments helping us to understand the effects of deep space radiation on life forms, and since 2011 has worked nearly full time in medical writing and science journalism. His focus area includes the emergence of new biotechnologies and their impact on biomedicine, public health, and society.

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