Michigan leaders blast abortion decision as ‘horrifying and embarrassing’

‘It’s not the government’s place to decide it for you,’ state Senate minority leader says

By: - June 24, 2022 9:30 am

“Stop the Bans” pro-choice rally, May 21, 2019 | Ken Coleman

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision — something abortion access advocates in Michigan are calling “horrifying and embarrassing.”

“Today is a sad day for America as an unelected group of conservative judges act squarely against the will of the people and medical expertise. We can all sense the despair that tens of millions of Americans—our neighbors, family members and friends—are feeling right now. However we personally feel about abortion, health—not politics—should drive important medical decisions,” said Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a statement Friday morning.

“I want every Michigander to know that I am more determined than ever to protect access to safe, legal abortion,” Whitmer continued. “… I will fight like hell to protect every Michiganders’ right to make decisions about their own body with the advice of a medical professional they trust. I will not give in or give up for my kids, your kids and the future of our great state.” 

Attorney General Dana Nessel called the decision anerosion of our status as equal citizens under the law.”

The decision was made with a 6-3 vote, with all conservative justices on the bench voting to overturn Roe

“With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent,” the dissenting justices wrote.

The decision wasn’t unexpected after a SCOTUS draft decision was leaked in May showing the right-wing-majority court’s intention to overturn Roe, but it’s unclear what the future of abortion care will be in Michigan. 

Michigan has a 1931 law on the books that would make all abortions in Michigan a felony, unless to save the life of the pregnant woman, but that law has been unenforceable for nearly 50 years under Roe. 

“The women of this nation will no longer have the guaranteed right to chart their own paths or make deeply personal and private medical decisions without government intrusion. Regardless of whether abortion is an option you would choose for yourself, one thing I know for sure is that it’s not the government’s place to decide it for you,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich (D-Flint).

Democrats and abortion care advocates took action against the law once the draft decision was leaked as a proactive measure before the federal constitutional protection for abortion was overturned.

Whitmer and Planned Parenthood of Michigan (PPMI) both filed separate lawsuits that would make the 1931 abortion ban unenforceable. In late May, Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher ordered an injunction in the Planned Parenthood lawsuit, which means enforcement of the ban is  paused until the court makes a final decision in the case.

“Abortion is still legal in Michigan and our doors are open,” said Dr. Sarah Wallett, Chief Medical Officer at PPMI, during a press conference Friday. “But my heart is breaking for the millions of patients living in states that will cut off abortion access today and in the days and weeks to come. … We are not going anywhere. I’m going to leave this press conference and go continue to provide abortions to patients who need them here in Michigan and we will never stop fighting to protect abortion access.”

Whitmer’s lawsuit went directly to the state Supreme Court, seeking to recognize the right to an abortion under the state Constitution and to strike down the state’s 1931 abortion ban law. 

The Planned Parenthood lawsuit would block enforcement of the ban. 

“As a nation, we trust in our highest court to hold sacred their duty, free from political whim. Today’s decision sets a dangerous precedent in reversing 50 years’ of settled law; creating extraordinary upheaval in the American legal system; and putting at risk other individual rights that generations of Americans fought to secure and preserve,” Nessel said in a statement. 

There is also the Reproductive Freedom for All (RFFA) ballot initiative that is aimed at protecting reproductive freedom and Michiganders’ right to make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth. 

The RFFA coalition, which includes Planned Parenthood of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, and Michigan Voices, will need to collect 425,059 signatures — 10% of the total votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election — for the initiative to be placed on the November ballot. 

I will fight like hell to protect every Michiganders’ right to make decisions about their own body with the advice of a medical professional they trust.

– Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

On Wednesday, State Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) introduced a bill to update the state’s 1931 abortion ban to “make it enforceable post-Roe” and make it so an individual who performs or attempts to perform an abortion, except to save a “pregnant woman,” will be guilty of manslaughter. The charge includes a maximum sentence of not more than 10 years in prison and a fine of no more than $100,000. The bill was referred to the Committee on Judiciary.

Pro-life groups were quick to rejoice to the news Friday, and pushed misinformation about the RFFA ballot initiative. 

“We are grateful to see the fall of Roe in the height of our efforts to stop the anything-goes abortion amendment. We have been preparing to protect Michigan’s 1931 abortion law for this very moment,” said Christen Pollo, the Citizens to Support MI Women and Children coalition spokeswoman. 

PPMI CEO Paula Thornton-Greear said they are taking steps to ensure patients’ and providers’ safety as protests outside clinics increase. 

“Let me just say, you can stand out there, but you won’t change our drive to ensure that we’re getting care to people,” she said. 

Wallett said the increase of harassment at Planned Parenthood clinics is “appalling.”

“It’s appalling that we have to have this conversation and have to think about it because of the work that we do, that we have to worry that our patients aren’t safe because they need health care,” Wallett said. 

Wallett said PPMI is preparing for an increase of patients from states where the Roe decision will immediately impact and cut off abortion access. 

“We’re expecting to see more people who need abortion care from places where, as of just an hour ago, abortion is now inaccessible, places like Wisconsin, places like Ohio, where there’ll be significant bans immediately put in place. We expect those patients to need to access care, and some of those patients will come to Michigan for that. So we’re preparing to help support them and see as many patients as we can.”

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Allison R. Donahue
Allison R. Donahue

Allison R. Donahue is a former Michigan Advance reporter who covered 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.