The Michigan Supreme Court ruled 5-2 Thursday to certify a sweeping abortion rights initiative for the November ballot, giving voters in the swing state a chance to decide whether the procedure remains legal or whether a nearly 100-year-old ban returns . result.
The decision means Michigan will join several other states where voters will have a say this fall on whether and to what extent abortion is legal afterRoe v. Wade — with votes also scheduled in California, Vermont, Kentucky and Montana. Along with a slew of pending court cases and state legislative battles, these November ballot initiatives could redraw the nation’s abortion access map at a time when the number of states implementing near-total bans is growing.
The Michigan Supreme Court’s emergency ruling overrides last week’s tie-breaking vote by the Board of State Canvassers, which blocked certification of the proposed constitutional amendment. The two Republicans on that panel sided with conservative groups who argued that spacing and formatting errors in the text they presented to voters invalidated the entire effort.
Chief Justice Bridget McCormack blamed those officials for that decision, writing in her ruling Thursday: “Seven hundred and fifty-three thousand seven hundred and fifty-nine Michiganders signed this petition—more than have ever signed any petition in Michigan history. The challengers have not produced a single signatory who claims to be confused by the limited sections in the full text of the proposal. However, two members of the Board of State Canvassers would prevent the people of Michigan from voting on the proposition.”
McCormack added that using distance errors to justify keeping the measure off the ballot is “a game gone terribly wrong” and commented, “What a sad sign of the times.”
Two justices dissented, arguing that the court should have discussed the case orally before ruling and that the challengers’ claims are legitimate.
“It may have the right words in the right order,” Judge David Viviano said of the abortion rights petition, “but the lack of critical word spacing makes the rest of the text much more difficult to read and understand.”
MI Citizens for Women and Children, the state’s anti-abortion activist group formed to campaign against the ballot measure, had argued in court that the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment included “stupid collections of letters that don’t are words’ and should therefore not be allowed on the ballot.
The coalition that supported the amendment responded that the denial of certification “disadvantaged the more than 730,000 Michigan voters who read, understood and signed these petitions.”
Democratic Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel — who is running for re-election this year — filed a brief noting that the U.S. Constitution also had a variety of spaces between words.
“If they really believe that these spacing and typographical issues should prevent this measure from becoming law, they don’t lose the ability to challenge it if it passes,” Nessel told video posted on Thursday. “But if they keep the proposal off the ballot, then there’s no chance you’ll get to that place because you haven’t allowed the voters to have a say at all.”
Abortion rights activists spent much of this year gathering signatures from all 83 counties in the state — far exceeding the roughly 425,000 needed to qualify. Progressive groups pushing the measure submitted signatures to the state elections office in early July, and the board in early August recommended ratification after finding the vast majority of signatures were valid. Neither conservative outside groups nor the Board of Canvassers disputed the authenticity or number of signatures.
The proposed amendment would insert protections into the state constitution for abortion as well as other reproductive health services, including miscarriage management, birth control, prenatal care and IVF. It would also prevent the state’s 1931 abortion ban from being reinstated if state courts uphold it in two pending cases involving lawsuits brought by Planned Parenthood and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The ban, which has no exceptions for rape or incest, remains blocked by a state court.
The freeze on the 1931 law was extended Wednesday by Michigan Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher, who ruled that it violates the state constitution because “it would deprive pregnant women of their right to bodily integrity and autonomy and the equal protection of the law ». Her decision will likely be appealed, and abortion rights advocates see the ballot initiative as the only surefire way to protect abortion access in the state.