Michigan voters to decide abortion policy this fall after state Supreme Court ruling

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an initiative potentially enshrining abortion protections in the state constitution will appear on the ballot this fall, overcoming opposition from Republican election officials.

The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, which is being pushed by an alliance of groups that includes the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, would make abortion a constitutional right in Michigan if it’s approved by voters. Abortion law in the state has caused confusion since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, as a 1931 law banning abortion would have gone into effect but was deemed unconstitutional by a state court.

Abortion rights supporters gather at a rally. Some hold signs that read: Reproductive freedom for all.
Abortion rights supporters outside the Michigan Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

While the Bureau of Elections verified that supporters had collected enough signatures by the July deadline, the two Republicans on Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers voted against having the measure on the ballot last month, citing issues with the spacing of the proposal’s language. While the two Democrats on the board voted in favor, three yes votes were needed for approval, sending it to the state Supreme Court.

In the opinion announced Thursday, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack excoriated the Republican board members for rejecting the initiative, writing that more Michiganders had signed the proposal than any other in the state’s history and that the challengers “have not produced a single signer who claims to have been confused by the limited-spacing sections in the full text portion of the proposal.”

“That is, even though there is no dispute that every word appears and appears legibly and in the correct order, and there is no evidence that anyone was confused about the text, two members of the Board of State Canvassers with the power to do so would keep the petition from the voters for what they purport to be a technical violation of the statute,” she continued. “They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad.

“What a sad marker of the times,” McCormack concluded.

Additionally, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that a measure expanding voting rights, which both Republicans on the board also voted against, would appear on the ballot this fall.

An abortion rights advocate wears a button on their T-shirt in support of the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal.
An abortion rights advocate wears a button in support of the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal. (Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images) (AFP via Getty Images)

Democrats are hoping that the enthusiasm and anger stemming from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights for millions of Americans can help them in November’s midterm elections, which have historically cut against the party controlling the White House. Last month, Democrat Pat Ryan won a special election for the U.S. House in a New York swing district, focusing his campaign around abortion. Weeks before, a proposal that would have removed abortion protections from the state constitution of Kansas was overwhelmingly rejected by voters, with high turnout for a midterm primary. Since the Supreme Court’s decision, some states have seen a surge in women registering to vote, while some Republican candidates have tried to back away from their extreme anti-abortion positions.

The stakes for this midterm election are particularly high in Michigan. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel are both up for reelection, as the party also hopes to gain ground in the state Senate and on the state Supreme Court.

Additionally, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates three of Michigan’s U.S. House races — two seats currently held by Democrats, one by a Republican — as competitive. A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released this week found Democrats with a slight edge on the generic congressional ballot.

Whitmer’s opponent, Republican Tudor Dixon, responded to the news of the ruling by writing on Twitter, “And just like that you can vote for Gretchen Whitmer’s abortion agenda & still vote against her.” Whitmer has been attacking Dixon for her views on abortion, which include bans on the procedure even for pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Dixon earned the support of former President Donald Trump in the primary after echoing his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen.