Voters in Michigan’s abortion deserts helped pass Proposal 3

By: - November 19, 2022 4:23 am

Planned Parenthood clinic in Marquette, the only abortion care clinic in the U.P., on Dec. 9, 2021 | Allison R. Donahue

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Michiganders had the chance to vote on whether abortion would stay legal in the state. 

The statewide proposal ended up passing on Nov. 8 by a 13-point margin, even finding support in deeply Republican counties and counties with no current access to abortion care. Proposal 3, which codified the right to abortion in Michigan’s Constitution, fared better in many areas than Democrats — who backed the measure — did at the top of the ballot. 

Twenty-six of the state’s 83 counties voted in support of the measure. Proposal 3 won in eight counties that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer lost on Nov. 8 — Gogebic, Keweenaw, Alger, Emmet, Manistee, Van Buren, Calhoun and Midland counties. The proposal won with 56.7% of the vote statewide and Whitmer beat her Republican opponent Tudor Dixon with 54.5% of the total vote. 

“It’s consistently said that, by and large, Michiganders support giving access to reproductive rights and abortion access, and this was a nonpartisan issue,” said Darci McConnell, the Reproductive Freedom For All (RFFA) campaign communication director. “And so I think, certainly, the support that we received from all walks of life bears that out.”

The Proposal 3 fight was an expensive one, with an ad battle that played out across the state.

According to state finance records, the RFFA campaign raised over $40 million by Oct. 23. The opposing group, Citizens to Support MI Women and Children, raised just shy of $17 million. There was $57 million in total that was raised in support of Proposal 3 recorded so far. 

Six northern Michigan counties that don’t have abortion clinics voted to support Proposal 3 — Gogebic, Keweenaw, Alger, Leelanau, Benzie, Manistee and Emmet. Much of the state’s northern region is considered an abortion desert, which means patients seeking abortion care need to travel over 100 miles to get to a clinic. 

Dr. Sarah Wallett, the chief medical operating officer at Planned Parenthood of Michigan, said abortion deserts don’t happen because abortion is unpopular or complicated. 

“But because providing abortions is so stigmatized that it's kind of done outside of routine medical care,” Wallett said. “We're regulated differently by the state. We have to report abortions in a different way than we do other medical care. So it tends to fall on a smaller number of people to provide that care.”

This doesn’t mean that pregnant people in rural areas across the state aren’t getting abortions. In 2020, 28,048 Michiganders from every county across the state got an abortion.

Wallett works at the Planned Parenthood Marquette Health Center, the only abortion provider in the Upper Peninsula. That clinic only offers medication abortions, and clinics that offer surgical abortions are even more rare in the state. If you live in the U.P., the closest Michigan clinic to get a surgical abortion would be either Flint or Grand Rapids.

Data visualization made with Flourish

“People within the state of Michigan are driving an hour or two hours [to get to a clinic]. And if you're coming from the Upper Peninsula, it could be eight hours to get to a location to get an abortion,” Wallett said. 

After the Supreme Court’s decision in June, abortion access has been temporarily protected in Michigan by a flurry of legal action and preliminary injunctions blocking enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban — which Proposal 3 supersedes.

However, some of Michigan’s neighboring states did lose access to abortion, like Wisconsin. Other states, like Ohio and Indiana, have abortion bans on the books that are temporarily blocked by legal action. That’s created more demand at Michigan clinics.

Several other states also had abortion rights measures on the ballot last week.

California and Vermont, like Michigan, voted in support of constitutional amendments to codify abortion rights in their state. Kentucky and Montana voters struck down anti-abortion constitutional amendments. In the summer, Kansans also opposed a ballot proposal to ban abortion. 

Jennifer Figler, who volunteered with the Reproductive Freedom For All campaign to collect signatures for the ballot proposal in the summer, said she wasn’t surprised that conservative counties in the upper peninsula voted in support of Proposal 3. 

“The folks of rural Michigan already have it hard enough. Limited access isn't great, but no access is worse,” Figler said. 

She recalled the stories she heard from residents in northern Michigan who drove hours to a clinic just to be turned away because they lacked internet access and hadn’t printed out the right paperwork, or others who relied on the already limited public transportation in the Upper Peninsula and couldn’t make it to a clinic.

Current Michigan abortion restrictions:

  • An abortion may only be performed after viability if the patient’s life is endangered.
  • Mandatory counseling at least 24 hours prior to the procedure.
  • Individuals must purchase additional coverage if they want their private insurance or health plans under the Affordable Care Act to cover the cost of abortion, since the state only allows for insurance policies to cover abortion in cases of life endangerment.
  • Parental consent for minors is required.
  • Public funding is available for abortion only in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.
  • Reproductive health clinics providing abortions must meet physical structural standards comparable to surgical centers. The facility must must be within 30 minutes of a hospital and have a transfer agreement with that hospital.

“The people who are impacted the most are people with the least resources,” said Wallett, listing the strain of finding money for gas, lodging, childcare and taking the time off work. 

“It's people who struggle more with finances. It's people who are parenting,” she said.  “What do you do with your kids when you have to drive 10 hours to get an abortion? Who takes care of them? Can you even arrange that? It is concerning that there's places where the logistics to get an abortion, even in Michigan where now abortion is protected, are really challenging to overcome.”

Getting any kind of medical care in the upper peninsula can be a challenge, Figler said while choking back tears. As a rural Michigander herself, the lack of medical care is personal. 

While many types of medical care are limited in rural areas, the state has put in place extra requirements for abortion clinics that are difficult for small, rural clinics to comply with. 

“Folks here in the U.P. realize that if you keep taking and taking, and you keep losing and losing, there isn't going to be much left human infrastructure-wise to support and sustain these communities and families,” Figler said.


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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.