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Prop 3 seeks to put abortion rights in MI Constitution

A split photo of two protests--one against abortion rights and one for. On the left, someone in a pink coat and purple hat holds a red sign that says "Let Their Hearts Beat" in black and white lettering and on the right, an arm holds up a white sign that says "Protect safe, legal abortion" in handwritten pink block letters
Maria Oswalt/Gayatri Malhotra
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Unsplash
Michigan voters will decide the future of abortion rights in Michigan when they vote on Proposition 3.

Michigan has been an abortion rights battleground since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

Proposal 3 on the November ballot is an attempt to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.

But the issue is more complex than a single up-or-down vote, and the controversy will almost certainly linger past the November election. The Dobbs decision made abortion rights a national controversy that’s playing out state by state in the midterm elections. Besides Michigan, there are four other states where voters will also decide abortion rights ballot questions.

“This would put us in a place in Michigan, it would ensure the protections that we had under Roe were preserved in our constitution and it would stop the 1931 law that remains on the books from going into effect,” said Loren Khogali with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which supports Proposal 3.

The dormant 1931 state law that Khogali is talking about would make abortion a felony in Michigan. The only exception would be to save the life of the pregnant woman. That law was nullified by the Roe v Wade decision, but it was never formally repealed by the Legislature. It’s on hold at the moment under court orders. But that could change if a higher court overrules the lower courts.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed one of those lawsuits and has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to rule abortion rights are already protected by the state constitution. “I am fighting like hell to make sure women can make their own decisions about their bodies,” she said in the second gubernatorial debate of this campaign.

The Democrat, who is seeking a second term, is a staunch defender of abortion rights and has made the issue a pillar of her re-election campaign.

She’s facing Republican challenger Tudor Dixon, who opposes abortion. “My position on abortion is clear,” Dixon said in the debate. “I am pro-life with exceptions for the life of the mother.”

But Dixon is also trying to take abortion off the table and turn voters’ attention to other issues, especially the state of the economy. The Republican nominee is trying to pull off a have-it-both-ways argument. She is opposed to abortion and says that would be her position as governor. But Dixon also says voters can vote to preserve abortion rights in Michigan with a ”yes” vote on Proposal 3 while registering their discontent on other issues by voting to turn Whitmer out of office.

“But I understand that this is going to be decided by the people of the state of Michigan or by a judge,” Dixon said. “As the governor has already stated, a judge has already ruled in this case.”

A coalition of anti-abortion groups, including the Catholic Church in the state, is not giving up on defeating the proposal. Their main pitch is the proposed amendment is too broad and complicated and would sweep away abortion restrictions that are largely favored by the public. That includes laws that require parental consent for a minor to have an abortion in most cases and a ban on the use of public funds for abortions.

“The way that this is worded will prevent the state from being able to restrict or regulate abortion at all,” said Kristen Pollo from the vote “no” campaign. “There are a lot of voters who have different opinions about abortion, but this is too far.”

But this election is almost certainly not the final word. If adopted, the parameters of an amendment to the state constitution would have to be further refined. That would be done via laws adopted by the Legislature and the outcome of court battles. So elections for governor and the Legislature will make a difference and the same would be true for courts because in Michigan, judicial positions – from local judges to justices of the state Supreme Court -- are also elected.

Pass or fail in November, the political and legal fights over abortion in Michigan aren’t going away.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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