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Whitmer signs law to repeal Michigan’s dormant abortion ban

Governor Gretchen signed legislation to repeal Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban. She calls the repeal “long overdue.”
Executive Office of Governor Gretchen Whitmer
Governor Gretchen signed legislation to repeal Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban. She calls the repeal “long overdue.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation Wednesday to formally strike Michigan’s unenforceable abortion law from the books. That law was preempted by an amendment adopted by voters last year. But Whitmer said there is symbolic and practical value to making the restrictive abortion law disappear.

“Who would like to watch me slay a zombie?” she asked to the cheers of the crowd.

Whitmer called the ban a “zombie law” because it was dormant before Roe v Wade was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, remained unenforceable through most court battles afterward, and, now, because Michigan voters in November approved a sweeping reproductive rights amendment.

The amendment to the Michigan Constitution overrides the abortion ban, but that 1931 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 And it could have been re-activated if the reproductive rights amendment is ever repealed or overturned.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,” she said.

The November election 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 US Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision.

Minni Tammaraju is the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America – 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,” she yelled as the crowd cheered. “We are in reproductive freedom territory now, y’all!”

In Kansas, another Midwestern state, the Republican-controlled Legislature sent Democratic Governor Laura Kelly a bill this week that could subject healthcare providers to lawsuits and criminal charges if certain types of abortion procedures go awry. Kelly could veto the legislation, as she did an earlier bill. But Republican 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 still more laws that may need to be scrubbed from the Michigan books to ensure reproductive rights.

“This is only the beginning,” she told Michigan Public Radio. “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.”

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 sort of bans or regulations prohibiting extreme late-term, third-trimester abortions in the state of Michigan. Most people don’t want third-trimester abortions. We should keep parental consent laws in place, for example, and strengthen those.”

So 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.

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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