Gov. Whitmer signs legislation to repeal Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban
Updated April 5, 2023 at 4:22 p.m.:
Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Wednesday to formally strike Michigan’s unenforceable abortion law from the books. That law was pre-empted by an amendment adopted by voters last year. But Whitmer said there is symbolic and practical value to making the restrictive abortion law disappear.
The mood was festive and the dress code was pink as people showed up sporting their movement’s color on t-shirts, scarves, ties and, in Governor Whitmer’s case, a business suit. The Democratic governor got down to business as she sat down to sign the bill to formally repeal Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban.
“Who would like to watch me slay a zombie?”
Whitmer called the ban a “zombie law.” That’s because it was dormant before Roe v. Wade was overturned… then it was dormant because of court battles, and then rendered unenforceable because Michigan voters approved the sweeping reproductive rights amendment last fall.
The amendment to the state Constitution overrides the abortion ban, but that law — which had no exceptions for rape or incest — would have otherwise remained on the books. And it could have been re-activated if the reproductive rights amendment is ever repealed or overturned. Whitmer said the lawbooks should reflect the voters’ intentions when they adopted the amendment.
“This is a long-overdue step and it proves that when we keep fighting to protect everyone's ability to make their own decisions about their bodies, we can win.”
The November election also swept Democratic majorities into the Legislature as Whitmer won a second term. The repeal was framed as the next step in a national movement to protect abortion rights following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.
Mini Timmaraju is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. She joined the celebration. She said the victory this week of an abortion rights supporter to the Wisconsin Supreme Court establishes the Upper Midwest as a place where abortion rights candidates and policies can be political winners.
“Let’s give it up for Wisconsin for a minute. We are in reproductive freedom territory now, y’all. We are!”
In Kansas, however, the Republican-controlled Legislature has sent Democratic Governor Laura Kelly a bill that could subject health care providers to lawsuits and criminal charges if certain types of abortion procedures go awry. Kelly could veto the bill. But Republicans have enough votes for a super-majority to override the veto.
And it also seems unlikely that political fights in Michigan over abortion rights are a thing of the past.
Nicole Stallworth is the president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. She said there are more laws that may need to be scrubbed from the books to ensure reproductive rights.
“This is only the beginning. We’ve had over 40 years of laws that have been put in place here in Michigan that make it difficult for people to access their reproductive freedom,” said Stallworth.
And abortion rights opponents say they’re not giving up. Genevieve Marnon of Right to Life of Michigan said her organization intends to fight in the Legislature and in courts for abortion restrictions that may not be precluded by the new reproductive rights amendment.
“We should have some bans or regulations prohibiting extreme late-term, third-trimester abortions in this state of Michigan. Most people don’t want third-trimester abortions. We should keep parental consent laws in place, for example, and strengthen those,” Marnon said.
There may still be legal questions about how the amendment will affect existing laws or possibly new ones.
More than two dozen bills have been introduced by Republicans in the Legislature with the aim of making sure that the governor’s signature is not the final word on abortion and reproductive rights in Michigan.
Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban is officially repealed. That’s after Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed bills Wednesday to take the law off the books.
The ban was already unconstitutional due to an amendment Michigan voters approved last year.
But Democratic Representative Laurie Pohutsky—who sponsored the repeal—said that wasn’t the end of the fight.
"Rather than admit that the passage of Prop Three stood as a clear mandate from Michiganders that wanted this draconian law repealed, opponents began to assert that this law’s purpose was actually to protect pregnant people and that repealing it would actually leave no protections in place," she said.
Whitmer said it’s important to strip what she calls “zombie laws” off the books to protect reproductive rights.
Groups opposing abortion rights, like Right to Life of Michigan, are calling the repeal a “dark day for women in our state.”
The repeal marks the last of six early priorities Democratic legislative leadership outlined earlier this year to receive the governor’s signature.