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From our State Capitol in Lansing to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, WKAR is committed to explaining how the actions of lawmakers are affecting Michiganders. Political and government reporter Abigail Censky leads this section. There are also stories from Capitol correspondents Cheyna Roth, Rick Pluta and the Associated Press. As the 2020 presidential race begins, look here for reports on the role Michigan will play in electing or re-electing the president.

What You Need To Know As Anti-Abortion Groups Get Ready To Canvass

Two anti-abortion groups plan to begin to circulating petitions asking voters to restrict abortion in Michigan.
WKAR File Photo
Two anti-abortion groups plan to begin to circulating petitions asking voters to restrict abortion in Michigan.

Anti-abortion groups will soon be on sidewalks and at events around the state, asking voters to support measures that would restrict abortion in Michigan.

The Petitions

There are two petitions that pertain to abortion. One would ban abortions when there is cardiac activity detected in the embryo or fetus. That would effectively ban abortions at around six to eight weeks. The other would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as a dilation and evacuation – or D&E.

Both measures would make it a crime for doctors to perform such abortions – and only include exceptions if the life of the mother is at risk. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

For more background on the initial bills that legislators passed in mid-May aimed at banning D&E abortion procedures, listen to this conversation between Bridge Magazine Capitol Watchdog Reporter Riley Beggin and WKAR’s Politics Reporter Abigail Censky.

The War Over Wording

Amanda West is with Planned Parenthood of Michigan. Her big concern – aside from disagreeing with the bans in general – is that people will sign off on the petitions without really understanding what they do.

“We have deep concerns that folks aren’t really understanding that we’re criminalizing physicians for providing the best care for women,” said West. “And we want to make sure that people have a true understanding of that’s really what’s at stake here.”

That’s because, West said, the petitions use language like “dismemberment abortion” and “partial birth abortion” in the case of the D&E procedure ban. And “fetal heartbeat protection” in the case of the cardiac activity ban. West said those are confusing and inflammatory terms

There are two groups behind the petitions – one for each measure.

Both say they are being open and upfront about what is in their measures and what their measures would do.

Right to Life of Michigan is behind the D&E ban. Legislative director, Genevieve Marnon, defended the petition.

“I did consult with doctors and I did consult the medical dictionary and the term dismemberment really does mean to remove limbs – arms and legs – it is common everyday language that everyone understands,” said Marnon.

Where things get tricky is when you realize that both groups would actually prefer it if their measures never got to the actual 2020 ballot.

There are bills to do these same things in the Legislature, but everyone pretty much knows that Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer will quickly grab her veto pen if those bills hit her desk.

The Veto Workaround

These ballot initiatives would provide a workaround to that veto threat. Here’s how:

If the measures get enough certified signatures – 349,047 to be exact – then they can go up for a vote in the state House and Senate.

Republicans currently hold a majority in the legislature. The groups are counting on that majority to pass these measures, and if they do, the measures become law without the governor’s signature. 

Mark Gurley is with the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition – the group behind the cardiac activity measure. He said the presidential cycle will be heated enough without another ballot measure.

“We don’t need to have another ballot proposal there for people to actually vote on,” Gurley said. “Not when they call their Legislators and have them vote according to their wishes.

Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) says she hopes that if these measures do come before the Legislature, that they won’t get put up for a vote.

“None of my constituents asked for this,” she said. “This is an onslaught that is taking place on the national level to slowly chip away at women’s rights and especially in a time when we’re more divided than ever, we need to be focusing on issues that matter, not something that’s going to divide us.”

Playing The Long Game

Anti-abortion advocates want these proposals to be challenged and go in front of a now conservative majority Supreme Court.

They are betting big that if these measures get to the Supreme Court, that the court will turn the case into a referendum on Roe v. Wade and effectively say that decades ago, the court got it wrong when it recognized a right to an abortion.

This has a direct impact on Michigan because there is a law on the books here that bans abortion. It’s a law that people haven’t really thought a lot about because the ability to get an abortion has been protected by Roe.

However, the court could determine that abortions are not protected by a constitutional right to privacy. If that happens, then abortion could be completely outlawed in the state.

Michigan’s abortion ban would likely immediately be contested in the courts is the Supreme Court overturned Roe, but to say that all of this is up in the air would be an understatement.

Follow Cheyna on Twitter: @Cheyna_R

Before becoming the newest Capitol reporter for Michigan Public Radio Network, Cheyna Roth was an attorney. She spent her days fighting it out in court as an assistant prosecuting attorney for Ionia County.
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