More than 2.2 million people in Michigan could lose access to abortion


'If Roe is overturned, abortion could become illegal in Michigan in nearly any circumstance—including in cases of rape and incest,' said Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 2.2 million women in Michigan could lose access to abortion services in the event that the Supreme Court overturns its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade

A "Red Alert Report" published by the federation in collaboration with In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda counted all American women of reproductive age, which it defines as between 18 and 49, and others who can become pregnant. The organization compiled the data in 2021 after the Supreme Court upheld Texas' ban on abortion after six weeks' gestation.

A decision on the constitutionality of a 15-week abortion ban instituted in Mississippi is pending in the Supreme Court; observers note that the fate of Roe could hang on a decision in the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

In a move designed to protect legal access to abortion in her state should Roe be rescinded, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on April 7 filed a suit in the Oakland County District Court against prosecutors in 13 counties that have abortion clinics.

"If Roe is overturned," Whitmer said in a press release Friday, "abortion could become illegal in Michigan in nearly any circumstance—including in cases of rape and incest."

The lawsuit asks the court to recognize a right to an abortion under the due process and equal protection clauses of the state Constitution. It also asks the court to stop enforcement of a 1931 state abortion ban that was declared unconstitutional by the decision in Roe v. Wade but could be applied if Roe were overturned.

Using her executive authority, Whitmer is also urging the Michigan Supreme Court to expedite this suit. "This is no longer theoretical: it is reality," Whitmer said. 

Right to Life of Michigan called the lawsuit "frivolous" and said that it should be "immediately dismissed by the Michigan Supreme Court."

Concurrent with the governor's lawsuit, Planned Parenthood of Michigan filed its own suit on Friday in the Michigan Court of Claims. The complaint aims to block the enforcement of the 1931 abortion ban. Noting that Michigan is one of "26 states that could move to eliminate abortion access" if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood asks the court to affirm the right to abortion under Michigan's Constitution. 

The 1931 law makes it a felony to provide an abortion and threatens physicians with prison time. 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said on April 7 that she would not defend the state against the Planned Parenthood suit, noting that she agrees that the 1931 abortion ban is unconsitutional:. "I will not enforce it, and neither will I defend it. I will take no part in driving women back into the Dark Ages and the back alleys." 

Seven of the 13 prosecutors named in the governor's lawsuit also say that they will not be enforcing the ban.

House Republicans pushed back after the governor's suit was announced. State Rep. David Martin said in a statement, "The governor is twisting the words of our constitution in a poor attempt to push her political agenda." 

A court could force Nessel to defend the state, however, or someone else could intervene. Republican Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said the Legislature was considering taking action.

According to recent polling, 67.3% of Michigan voters support keeping Roe v. Wade in place. Only 19.1% of voters want Roe overturned. Seventy-seven percent of voters said abortion was something that should be left to a woman and her doctor, whereas 9.7 % said it should be regulated by law.

According to David Dulio, the director of Oakland University's Center for Civic Engagement, Whitmer is well aware of the level of popular support for Roe. "One thing that will hurt the Democrats in upcoming elections is lethargy — not having the energy of 2018 or 2020," Dulio said. Looking ahead to the 2022 election, he noted, Whitmer's stance on this issue might well activate Michigan's Democrats.

Whitmer spoke over the weekend in Detroit at the Michigan Democratic Party's nominating convention for attorney general, secretary of state, and other positions. Up for reelection in November, Whitmer said she was the "last line of defense," and urged supporters to work hard to ensure "that every single voter in this state knows that their democracy is on the ballot this fall."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.