The Michigan Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a proposal enshrining the right to an abortion in the state’s constitution be added to the November ballot, ending a partisan feud that unexpectedly erupted when a state board refused to approve the question last week.
The decision from the state’s highest court came after a four-member Michigan elections board deadlocked over whether to allow the initiative. Two Republican members on the Board of State Canvassers declined to certify the question, which required three votes, citing objections to the spacing and readability of the proposal text.
In her majority opinion, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget M. McCormack called the actions of the opposing members on the elections board “a sad marker of the times.”
“They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad,” she wrote.
The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign, which led the signature drive behind the ballot question, said its efforts will now move toward turning out voters in November.
“We are energized and motivated now more than ever to restore the protections that were lost under Roe,” Darci McConnell, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement.
After the election board deadlocked last month, the RFFA campaign asked justices to expedite a decision before a Sept. 9 deadline when wording for constitutional amendments and legislative referendums must be finalized for the November ballot. Final ballots are mailed to overseas and military voters starting Sept. 24.
In its petition, the reproductive rights campaign argued that the board “abandoned its clear legal duty” when it declined to add the measure to the ballot despite it meeting the necessary legal requirements.
Antiabortion group Citizens to Support MI Women and Children first raised objections to the proposal in August. The group filed a challenge with the state arguing that typographical and spacing errors created “strings of gibberish” that should be disqualified from being placed in the state constitution.
The group flagged three passages in the proposal where spacing issues created typos including “DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY” and “POSTPARTUMCARE,” though legislative experts dismissed that argument in various court filings and amicus briefs.
Christen Pollo, a spokesperson for the group, said she was confident Michigan voters would reject the referendum question, which will appear on the ballot as Proposal 3.
“The consequences of this [amendment] are extremely far-reaching,” Pollo told The Washington Post on Thursday. “Voters must say no to Proposal 3 to keep this confusing and extreme mess out of our state constitution.”
Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, the fight over abortion access has been especially intense in the reliably purple state. Before the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and Planned Parenthood of Michigan filed separate lawsuits to prevent the state’s nearly century-old abortion law from taking effect. If enforced, the law would make virtually all abortions except those done to save the life of the mother subject to prosecution as a felony punishable by up to four years in prison.
If Michigan voters decide to protect abortion rights, the state will join Illinois and Minnesota as the only states in the Upper Midwest where abortion remains or is likely to remain legal. Those states have already become a refuge for women in that part of the country.
The high-stakes ballot measure is expected to draw to the polls voters across both sides of the aisle — potentially having implications for the governor’s race. Recent surveys indicate Whitmer has a lead over her Republican challenger, Tudor Dixon. Moderate Republicans — a key voting group — may vote one way on abortion and another for governor or down-ballot races.
“Assuming we still have a red wave, the obvious, very large speed bump are pro-choice, lean-conservative voters,” said Jason Roe, a GOP political strategist and former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party. “If the initiative is on the ballot, it gives them the opportunity to vote on determining on what the abortion policy is in Michigan but also vote for Republican candidates.”
Four other states — California, Kentucky, Montana and Vermont — will put ballot measures before voters this fall. California and Vermont’s proposals will ask if voters want to enshrine abortion rights into state law, while Kentucky and Montana’s questions ask whether voters want to adopt laws prohibiting abortion.
In August, Kansas voters overwhelming rejected a ballot measure that would have stripped abortion protections from state law.