Michigan Senate votes to repeal 1931 abortion ban

By: - March 9, 2023 8:36 am

Protesters gather in Lansing for a June 24, 2022 rally against the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. | Photo by Andrew Roth

Wednesday was a frenetic day of legislative activity in Lansing, with a historic vote to expand the state’s signature civil rights statute and House approval of repealing Michigan’s right-to-work law. So one might be forgiven if they missed the repeal of a more than 90-year-old statewide ban on abortions. 

We have to stand up for bodily autonomy. People should have the ability to choose their own destiny,” said State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) | Ken Coleman

“Here in Michigan, the first 1931 zombie-law repeal bill was introduced in 2018. I know, because I wrote it,” said Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), one of the lead sponsors of the legislation. “It’s time to ensure the archaic 1931 abortion ban, contraception ban, and the related penalties—dangerous laws drafted, passed, and enacted by an entirely male Legislature—are off the books once and for all. There’s no reason to transport women’s rights and the reproductive health of all Michiganders backwards, and by repealing these nearly century-old laws, we are finally providing a safer and more promising future for Michiganders.”  

Coming, appropriately enough, on International Women’s Day, the 20-18 passage by the Michigan Senate of the four-bill package was along party lines and follows approval last week of similar legislation in the House. All Democratic senators voted for the repeal; every Republican opposed it. The lead sponsors of the bills are Geiss, Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) and Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills).

Leaders in the two chambers will now decide on which version of the legislation to send to Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a longtime proponent of abortion rights who is expected to sign the legislation.

The bills passed by the Senate were: 

  • Senate Bill 2, which was introduced by Geiss and repeals the 1931 ban on contraception and other information about reproductive health.
  • Senate Bill 37, which was introduced by Bayer and updates the code of criminal procedure.
  • Senate Bill 39, which was introduced by Geiss and  repeals the section of the 1931 that criminalizes providing an abortion. 
  • Senate Bill 93, which was introduced by Anthony and repeals penalties for the sale of drugs or medicine to procure a miscarriage.

“The attempts to limit reproductive health care are a direct attack on an individual’s right to bodily autonomy,” Anthony said. “It is unconscionable that politics can interfere with health care and this legislation will ensure it does not happen.”

During floor debate on the measures, Republicans remained adamant in their opposition to abortion, regardless of  overwhelming support for Proposal 3 in November’s election. Passed by a 13-point margin, the proposal’s passage enshrined abortion rights into Michigan’s Constitution.

“Today, we have the ugly and sad reality of dealing with the tragic flight of our people to call what is repugnant and shocking a fundamental right,” said Sen. Ed McBroom, (R-Vulcan).

Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell) said the repeal was “yet another attempt to normalize and marginalize the tragic death of an unborn child.”

Bayer said that by repealing the 1931 abortion ban, they were honoring the wishes of the majority of Michiganders.

Protestors march in support of abortion rights following a Women’s Wave rally in Lansing on Oct. 8, 2022. (Andrew Roth | Michigan Advance)

“Today, we voted on a bill package that does exactly what the majority of people in Michigan have said they want,” said Bayer. “These fundamental decisions are so personal—no government should be telling us what to do. My abortion was necessary to save my life. I’m glad I’m here today because of that, and to be able to vote on this bill and ensure this life-saving healthcare is protected and kept safe and legal here in Michigan.” 

Although the 1931 abortion ban remained on the books, it was nullified by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court established a national right to legal abortion. That changed, however, when the current arch-conservative court overruled that landmark precedent last June, potentially allowing for prosecutions under the law.

With Proposal 3’s passage in November by a decisive 13-point margin, the law was again made invalid, although the determination to rid it from Michigan law remained strong.

“The most urgent and pertinent part of fulfilling the public’s will on Proposal 3 is repealing the 1931 ban on abortion, without exceptions for rape and incest, and related statutes,” said a press release from Michigan Senate Democrats. “When this archaic and dangerous law was passed, women had only had the federal right to vote for a little over a decade. The legislation was drafted and enacted by an entirely male Legislature.”

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) said the repeal also sends an important message that reproductive health care is an essential aspect of people’s lives and not something for the government to be involved in.

“Reproductive freedom—or lack thereof—can affect the whole person: their physical health, their mental health, financial stability, capacity to care for children or other family members, ability to create a family later in life, and so much more,” said Brinks. “Today, we are telling Michigan women and their nurses and doctors that we trust them to make these deeply personal decisions, and we’re doing that by getting rid of this harmful area of the law that says otherwise.”

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Jon King
Jon King

Jon King is the Senior Reporter for the Michigan Advance and has been a journalist for more than 35 years. He is the Past President of the Michigan Associated Press Media Editors Association and has been recognized for excellence numerous times, most recently in 2022 with the Best Investigative Story by the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. He is also an adjunct faculty member at Cleary University. Jon and his family live in Howell.

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