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Abortion, voting rights amendment drives submit petitions

A privacy screen for voters at Brody Hall on Michigan State University is pictured on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Brody Hall doubles as a precinct and an East Lansing city clerk's satellite office.
Sarah Lehr
A privacy screen for voters at Brody Hall on Michigan State University is pictured on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.

The petition campaign to enshrine abortion rights in the Michigan Constitution turned in signed petitions Monday to put the question on the November ballot. Organizers say an amendment would end any uncertainty in Michigan as to whether abortion is legal in the state after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe versus Wade.

People celebrated as six pallets of boxes holding the abortion rights petitions were delivered to the front steps of the state Bureau of Elections, where they were unloaded and carried inside to be checked in for processing. The group then adjourned to the nearby Lansing Center to savor the moment and fire up their coalition for what’s next.

The crowd chanted: “Stand up! Fight back! Stand up! Fight back!”

The goal of the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign is to have voters adopt a constitutional amendment that would override a 1931 state law that bans abortion in Michigan except to save the life of a pregnant woman. That law is currently on hold under an order issued by a Michigan Court of Claims judge.

But Nicole Wells Stallworth of Planned Parenthood of Michigan said that could change if a higher court makes a different ruling.

“Without this amendment, we don’t know,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “There’s a question mark as to what our rights will look like, and this is our opportunity to define for ourselves what our sexual and reproductive health rights will be long into the future.”

The campaign includes Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Michigan and several other abortion rights organizations. The group says it’s turned in 753,759 signatures of registered voters and it’s gone the extra mile to check and scrub its petitions of invalid signatures. It will take 425,059 valid signatures to qualify for the November ballot.

Stallworth said the campaign turned in hundreds of thousands of extra signatures to show the amendment’s wide appeal and to pretty much guarantee it will make the ballot.

“This is our opportunity to establish and affirm that people in Michigan will have the right to make and carry out their own reproductive health care decisions,” she said, “and that those decisions will be held between themselves and their medical doctor.”

The next step is for state Bureau of Elections workers to check for duplicate signatures and to make sure only registered voters’ names are being counted toward the final tally. There will also be an opportunity for opponents of the amendment campaign to challenge signatures before petitions can be certified by a state elections board.

Christen Pollo is with Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children, a coalition that opposes the measure and includes Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference.

“We have a responsibility to make sure that if this is going to be on the ballot that it has a right to be on the ballot,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “They need to submit the right number of signatures. They need to submit valid signatures. And we want to be part of making sure that happens.”

Pollo said the coalition is also ramping up a vote-no campaign with an eye toward November that will argue the reproductive rights amendment could also sweep away abortion restrictions including a ban on Medicaid-funded abortions and Michigan’s parental consent abortion law.

“We continue to educate Michiganders and will continue to educate Michiganders on what is actually included in this can-of-worms anything-goes abortion amendment,” she said.

The reproductive rights campaign is one of two that just submitted petition signatures. The “Promote The Vote” campaign crossed paths at the elections bureau with the abortion rights campaign. The “Promote the Vote” amendment would expand voting rights in the state constitution to allow early in-person voting, allow free postage for absentee voting, and allow voters to sign an affidavit of identity if they show up at the polls without a picture ID.

Promote the Vote President Khalilah Spencer said the amendment would build on the successful 2018 ballot campaign to expand voting rights. She said that did not stop efforts to cast doubt on the 2020 elections in Michigan, including President Joe Biden’s win of the state’s electoral votes.

“I think (Promote the Vote) 2022 is really just building on that and making sure that we can still provide access, making sure that you can have early voting, closing some of the gaps in information with respect to election audits, what that really means when it was included in 2018 proposals,” said Spencer.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.
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