GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Though Michigan has an abortion ban on the books, it is in limbo while legal challenges make their way through the state court system.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, again allowing states to ban abortion.
“It’s always a little shocking to see the court kind of overturn this many decades of precedent,” Central Michigan University Assistant Professor Kyla Stepp, who specializes in constitutional law, said.
In Michigan, a 1931 law makes it illegal to perform most abortions. It only allows for an abortion if the mother’s life is in danger, with no exceptions for incest or rape.
“It makes abortion a criminal defense,” Stepp explained. “Depending on who we’re talking about, it can be anywhere from a misdemeanor up to a felony. There’s actually a pretty strict and punitive law compared to a lot of state laws on abortion.”
However, a state Court of Claims judge in May suspended enforcement of the ban. That means that right now, no law enforcement in Michigan can penalize anyone for performing an abortion.
“Let me be clear – abortion is still legal in Michigan, and our doors are open,” Dr. Sarah Wallett, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said in a statement. “…I’m working with our team of expert doctors, nurses and health care professionals to ensure we can provide care to as many patients as possible.”
However, the judge’s suspension is not the final ruling on the matter, which is still working its way through the courts system. Planned Parenthood has challenged the 1931 law, calling it unconstitutional.
“It is a dark day for our country and we are outraged. By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has signaled that it trusts politicians more than us to make our own, deeply personal, medical decisions. But this is far from over. We will not compromise on our bodies, our dignity, or our inherent rights. Michiganders should know that Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan will always fight for you, and we will not back down. Together, we will rebuild and reclaim our freedom. Let’s be clear – this ruling goes beyond abortion. This is about who has power to make decisions when it comes to our bodies and who can control our futures.”Planned Parenthood Advocated of Michigan Executive Director Nicole Wells Stallworth
“If in fact that injunction is overturned and the law comes back into effect, certainly county prosecutors and city prosecutors could charge people under this law if they want to,” Stepp said.
Michigan’s attorney general, Dana Nessel, a Democrat, had already said she would not enforce the abortion ban if Roe v. Wade was overturned, and she’s also not going to go after providers’ licenses.
“I am not going to seek to discipline, to suspend, to revoke the license of any medical professional who is properly trained in performing abortions or prescribing abortion medications and then who proceeds to do that,” Nessel told reporters during a virtual press conference Friday. “I will not involve my office in that.”
Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference have worked to oppose Planned Parenthood’s suit. A timeline on the legal battle is unclear.
“That case is being appealed. There are other lawsuits pending, so ultimately, probably, the Michigan Supreme Court will be the one to determine whether that old abortion law in Michigan can stand or not,” Stepp, the CMU professor, said. “And of course the Michigan Legislature is free to pass whatever new law it wants to about abortion.”
NEW ABORTION BILL, GOVERNOR’S LAWSUIT
State Rep. Steve Carra, R-Three Rivers, has introduced a bill to the state Legislature that would not only would make it a 10-year felony not only to perform an abortion on a woman whose life is not in danger, but also make it a felony to manufacture, distribute, prescribe, dispense, sell or transfer drugs that cause abortions. The bill was introduced Wednesday. As of Friday, far, no committee hearing had been scheduled.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, promised to veto the bill if it passes the Republican-helmed Legislature.
“…The Legislature will continue to tee up laws to make it harder for women to access reproductive health care and the only thing that will keep that from happening is a veto, my veto,” Whitmer told News 8 Friday. “If one of the people on the other side of the aisle that is running for governor is elected governor — they’ve all endorsed the 1931 law.”
“That is how stark this moment is,” she continued. “And that is how precarious these rights are, these health care rights are, for women in Michigan.”
Whitmer has also filed suit, asking courts to recognize abortion as a right under the Michigan Constitution. She has called on the Michigan Supreme Court to rule on it and filed a motion to that effect Friday afternoon.
“I’m hopeful that our state Supreme Court will urgently decide this case,” Whitmer told News 8. “We have asked the constitutional question of whether or not the state constitution, under due process and equal protection, recognizes women’s right to privacy and a woman’s right to bodily autonomy.”
An average of 12 EPIC-MRA polls between September 2018 and January 2022 shows the majority of people in Michigan — 53.9% — support abortion rights. The polls said 39.3% of people said they were pro-life and 6.75% were undecided and refused to say where they stood. An EPIC-MRA poll from May, after the draft of the Supreme Court’s decision leaked, found 63% of people in Michigan would disagree with Roe being over turned, while 26% agreed.
“This is a high stakes moment,” Whitmer said. “The most important economic decision a woman makes in her lifetime is whether and when to have a child. Seventy percent of Michiganders support the woman being able to make that decision. And now all of that is very much in jeopardy.”
Aside from stressing her opinion that abortion is a matter of women’s rights, she noted that it is also an economic matter for Michigan.
“Think about our economy,” Whitmer said. “Think about how do we lure people into Michigan knowing that once you come over the state line, you’re going to have fewer rights than if you stay in Illinois or in another state like Pennsylvania or New York, for instance. This is a very stark moment.”
She also noted that if Michigan’s 1931 becomes enforceable again, its affects will be primarily on women who do not have the time and resources to travel to another state where abortion is legal.
“…This will disproportionately impact women who are rural women, who’ve got fewer resources, women of color,” she said.
“The Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment affirms that every person has the right to make and carry out decisions about all matters related to pregnancy including birth control, abortion, prenatal care and childbirth without political interference,” Michigan Voices Co-Executive Director Sommer Foster said during a virtual news conference Friday.
The petition needs a total of 425,000 valid signatures by July 11 to make the ballot. Foster would not say how many signatures have been gathered so far because she said it is changing quickly, but she said organizers expect to reach the threshold, plus gather additional signatures in case some are disqualified. Loren Khogali, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which is supporting the petition, said organizers have made sure none of the entities involved in previous fraudulent signature gathering in the state this year are involved.
Foster said phones were ringing off the hook Friday with people who wanted to help with the initiative.
“We refuse to allow our children to grow up in a country with fewer rights than we had. This is an all hands on deck moment,” Foster said. “The Supreme Court has made clear that it’s up to us to come together to protect reproductive freedom.”
Nessel, the state attorney general, threw her support behind a ballot question.
“I think really what people need to be doing is thinking long-term and to do so, all you have to do is get this ballot proposal passed,” Nessel said. “I think that is the best way, the easiest way to ensure that these fundamental rights are codified into Michigan’s constitution — not just for now, but for years or decades to come.”
HOSPITAL POLICIES AND STATEMENTS
Following the announcement that Roe v. Wade was overturned, hospitals in West Michigan have been releasing their statements on how they will be handling abortions going forward.
Beaumont Health and Spectrum Health, the largest healthcare system in the state, released an updated statement on Friday that said it had established a committee to review “all non-emergent circumstances where an abortion is considered medically necessary.” It expressed concern for the criminal liability of its physicians and clinical teams.
On Saturday, BHSH released an updated statement that read:
“After extensive evaluation and in-depth discussion, and always using compassion as our guide, we have evolved our approach. We continue to have the full support of the BHSH System Board of Directors.
At Present, the current legal landscape regarding abortion in our state is unclear and uncertain. We are aware of the 1931 Michigan law. However, given the uncertainties and confusion surrounding its environment, until there is clarity, we will continue our practice of providing abortions when medically necessary.
We continue to believe that these decisions are both personal and private and best made between a woman and her physician. In 2021, the entire BHSH System performed approximately 60 therapeutic, medically necessary abortions that required hospital level care. We have not and will not perform elective abortions. We continue to provide care for women’s health, including reproductive needs. We will support our physicians and patients through a multidisciplinary, local committee as they navigate this challenging landscape.”BHSH President & CEO Tina Freese Decker said in a statement
“Trinity Health believes that all life is sacred including the lives of pregnant women and unborn children. Trinity Health has never performed elective abortions and our position will not change if Roe v Wade is overturned, provided that state laws allow hospitals to save the life of the mother when the death of the baby is inevitable.“Trinity Health said in a statement
“Bronson Healthcare does not offer on-demand abortion services. However, some pregnancy terminations are performed at the hospital by OB/GYN providers on our medical staff. Termination decisions are made on an individual basis by the patient and physician taking into account the unique medical circumstances and health of the mother. Reasons for termination include:
– Fetal conditions that are incompatible with life (meaning the fetus would never survive outside the womb due to lack of vital organs such as brain, lungs, kidneys, etc.) or that threaten the mother’s life.
– Elective termination of a pregnancy as decided upon by the patient and her provider.
“The Bronson Healthcare system has oversight processes in place to ensure any pregnancy terminated at a Bronson hospital is fully compliant with applicable laws. If SCOTUS changes the law at the federal level, we expect a state injunction will give Michigan healthcare providers more time to learn what the new law requires. In the meantime, Bronson representatives are meeting with colleagues from across the state to better understand the legal and ethical considerations that would go into adapting to a new law.“Bronson Healthcare said in a statement
The University of Michigan released a statement on May 25 saying that it created a university-wide task force on abortion-care access. The statement read in part:
“For now, Michigan Medicine remains dedicated to and continues to provide the full spectrum of women’s health services, including abortion care.
“…the task force will consider how to mitigate the impact on Michigan Medicine’s clinical training programs, which include training around abortion and reproductive care.
“…The task force will outline guidance for clinical providers and work to establish resources for accessing out-of-state abortions that can be provided to patients and others in the campus community.”University of Michigan Medicine said in a statement
—News 8’s Kyle Mitchell and political reporter Rick Albin contributed to this report.