Anti-abortion coalition forms against Michigan reproductive rights ballot measure

By: - May 24, 2022 4:25 pm

Merchandise sold at Right to Life Legislative Day, May 3, 2022 | Laina G. Stebbins

An anti-abortion coalition launched an education campaign Tuesday against the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative, which aims to secure Michigan’s right to safe and legal abortions and other reproductive health measures in the state Constitution. 

The Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children coalition, which includes Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference, held a press conference Tuesday morning to break down its qualms with the language used in the ballot initiative. 

Attorney John Bursch at the Michigan Supreme Court | Nick Manes

John Bursch, senior counsel and vice president of appellate advocacy for the Alliance Defending Freedom, said that the constitutional amendment proposal would make Michigan a “wild west, regulation-free abortion state.”

The coalition argues the language used in the proposal to be too broad and says it does not protect women against bad actors who perform abortions. 

“The Michigan Chapter of the American Medical Association would never allow these kinds of standards for any sort of surgical procedure to take place. And yet, that’s the benefit that we give our abortion providers. Some Michigan citizens need to be aware of this,” Bursch said. “These are the actual words that are going into our Michigan Constitution. And they’re going to stay there. … And in the meantime, women are going to be harmed and people are going to make choices that they regret.”

In January, Reproductive Freedom for All formed to get a petition on the 2022 ballot protect reproductive freedom and Michiganders’ right to make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth before voters in the November election. 

The coalition includes Planned Parenthood of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices.

The coalition will need to collect 425,059 signatures — 10% of the total votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election — to go directly to the ballot for voters to decide. 

Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said the Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children coalition is ready to “raise and spend as much money as we can” in order to keep this initiative from making it on the ballot.

She said the group would “certainly consider” rolling out their own counter-ballot initiative if RFFA is able to collect enough signatures and get in front of voters.

The intensity of the fight over reproductive rights has increased since a draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court leaked last month showing the right-wing-majority court’s intention to overturn the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade decision. 

The Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children coalition press conference on May 24, 2022 | Allison R. Donahue

Michigan has a 1931 law still on the books that would make all abortions in Michigan a felony, unless to save the life of the pregnant woman. 

Last week, Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher ordered the injunction, which means enforcement of the ban would be paused, even if Roe were to be overturned, until the court makes a final decision in the case.

Some lawmakers and abortion rights advocates have questioned whether the language in the 1931 law is still relevant more than 90 years later. 

Christen Pollo, spokesperson for the Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children coalition, said they wouldn’t do anything to improve the language in the law. 

“We endorse it. We have a very strong law that protects women and unborn life. And we believe in that law. It’s been upheld many times over the years,” Pollo said. 

When asked by the Advance whether the coalition would consider changing the law from exclusively saying “pregnant women” to “pregnant people,” which includes trans people who are also able to get pregnant, Bursch said that it’s not necessary and essentially rejected the existence of transgender people.   

“We can talk about people who identify as trans, but to a medical professional, there are really two sexes: male and female,” Bursch said. “There’s no reason to have ‘pregnant person’ in a statute. Because a biological, natural born female who identifies or presents as male is still a pregnant mother.”

People line up to sign the Reproductive Freedom for All ballot measure petition at the abortion rights protest in Anna Arbor, May 14, 2022 | Angela Demas

Bonsitu Kitaba, ACLU of Michigan’s deputy legal director, pushed back against Bursch’s remarks. 

“Individuals who have the capacity to become pregnant deserve the same freedoms and protections as everyone else. And we know that not just women or people who identify as women can become pregnant,” said Kitaba. “The constitutional amendment applies to everyone: men, women and those who are nonbinary. … When we use the phrase pregnant people, it’s an all-encompassing phrase. It encompasses everyone who has the ability to become pregnant and would need access to either miscarriage care, abortion care, infertility or contraception.”

Bursch specifically noted the inclusion of sterilization care, such as vasectomies or tubal ligations, in the RFFA proposal, saying that it “creates a fundamental right to all kinds of transgender surgeries, puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and things like that.”

“All I know is that this language goes beyond inclusion to include concepts of things that the proponents of this ballot measure are not publicly proclaiming,” Bursch said. 

Kitaba said that the goal of the coalition is to protect all reproductive rights, including access to contraceptives or sterilization procedures. 

“Once abortion is banned, the next step is to ban contraception. And so this constitutional amendment will ensure that everyone has the right and ability to make those decisions about contraception and sterilization with their doctors based on their own medical situation,” Kitaba said. 

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.

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