LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — The group working to enshrine reproductive freedoms, including the right to abortions, in the Michigan Constitution says it has submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures to get the measure on the ballot.
“The number of signatures show that here in Michigan, we trust women, we trust people, we trust doctors, not politicians, to make decisions about our body, our pregnancy and parenthood,” Reproductive Freedom for All spokesperson Shanay Watson-Whittaker said at a Monday morning press conference in Lansing.
Organizers said they collected about 911,000 signatures and were submitting 753,759 of those to the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office. The state Bureau of Elections will check to confirm at least 425,059 are valid.
In addition to ensuring abortion would be legal in Michigan, the constitutional amendment would cover the right of an individual to access to birth control, miscarriage care, prenatal care and childbirth, organizers say. They say it’s the first constitutional amendment ballot proposal of its kind in the U.S.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, again allowing states to ban abortion.
“The people of Michigan are sending a very clear message: Not in our state,” Watson-Whittaker said. “We are taking a major step to bring the protections of Roe back to Michigan.”
Michigan has a ban on performing abortions under most circumstances that dates back to 1931, but that ban is currently not being enforced. It’s in legal limbo while the state courts consider challenges by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Retired OB/GYN Dr. Michael Hertz said that when he started medical school 50 years ago, before Roe was decided, 15% to 20% of maternal mortality was attributed to illegal and unsafe abortions. Major hospitals, he said, had “hysterectomy wards” in emergency rooms to treat women who had undergone such abortions.
“Permanent sterility was not an uncommon result,” Hertz said. “Criminalized abortion was a public health epidemic in the United States.”
Four years later, he said, Roe v. Wade had changed that. The hysterectomy wards were gone and maternal mortality attributed to illegal abortions “vanished.” He said Roe protected his patients’ health.
Renee Chelian, president and CEO of Northland Family Planning Clinic in southeastern Michigan, said she understands the change intimately.
“I had a very dangerous illegal abortion in a dirty warehouse when I was 15 years old, and I was lucky that I survived and that I was not left infertile,” Chelian said.
Chelian has spent nearly five decades as an abortion provider. Getting an abortion, she said, is a complicated decision. She said patients seeking them deserve a safe environment, “dignity and respect.” She said she doesn’t want women to go through the back-alley abortion experience that she had.
“…(Overturning Roe) will have major health repercussions, unintended consequences and much more for pregnant people and their children. I do not want women to go back to abortion like mine or for people to have to travel to another state” to get an abortion, she said.
“This amendment is about restoring the freedoms that we had before the Supreme Court ripped the right to make a private decision about pregnancy, the decision about when to bring new life into the world, from all of us and put it into the hands of politicians,” she continued.
Reproductive Freedom for All said it leveraged 2,000 volunteers plus another 62,000 people who signed up online to support the initiative to gather signatures. Chelian said members of her staff were among those volunteers.
“People are outraged and angry and they want to do something to take back this right,” Chelian said. “Many people who were unsure about abortion or who even told us that they were anti-abortion signed our petitions because they said this has gone too far. We have as many stories from people as there are petition signatures.
“I have worked on this campaign and I am here today because this is personal to me, for my daughters, for my granddaughters,” she continued, “but to also share the hopes and dreams of our patients, the hopes and dreams of most Michiganders, because to them, it is also really personal.”
Daniel Hamilton, YWCA Kalamazoo director of Public Policy, said that people of color and LGBTQ communities are more vulnerable under Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban.
“The sheer number of signatures that our staff, volunteers and our supporters have gathered demonstrates that people of color, LGBTQIA+ people and young people are tired of watching as our dignity and our ability to control our bodies are subject to the whims of anti-abortion politicians and courts,” Hamilton said.
If the signatures are verified by the Bureau of Elections and certified by the Board of State Canvassers, the question will be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
—News 8’s Meghan Bunchman contributed to this report.