July 21, 2024 2:15 am
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Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s Legal Work to Protect Reproductive Rights

Credit: iStock

Armand Jackson

Since the Supreme Court conservative majority ruled 6-3 in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, and 5-4 to overturn Roe, abortion rights in the United States have been shifted back to the decision of state legislatures. Abortion remains legal in Michigan albeit with a multitude of restrictions. Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued a statement condemning the conservative majority ruling based on partisan politics and ignoring the will of the American people and medical expertise. Her statement mentions the state’s 1931 abortion law, one of the strictest in the country that would make almost all abortions considered a felony with possible penalties of up to four years in prison for both doctors who assist in abortions and pregnant people who use medication for self-abortions. 

This law makes no exception for rape or incest and the phrase “perserve the life of the mother” is vague and up to interpretation. Whitmer also mentions that Michigan’s Republican majority legislature intends to uphold this pre-Roe law and go a step further with proposals of a 10-year prison sentence for abortion providers and a 20-year sentence for anyone manufacturing, selling or distributing birth control medication. In her legal battle for reproductive rights, Governor Whitmer signed an executive directive instructing departments not to cooperate with or assist authorities of any state in any investigation or proceeding against anyone for obtaining, providing, or assisting someone else to obtain or provide reproductive health care that is legal. 

She has also filed a lawsuit to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to recognize a constitutional right to an abortion under the Due Process Clause of the state Constitution and in so doing, stop enforcement of the 1931 abortion ban. This lawsuit works alongside a Michigan state judge granting a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by Planned Parenthood against the 1931 law functionally blocking the measure and keeping, abortion in Michigan legal for now. The governor has recently filed a motion, as well as sent a notice, to the Michigan Supreme Court urging them to immediately consider her lawsuit to decide if Michigan’s state constitution protects the right to abortion. 

However, she faces opposition from Michigan’s Republican controlled legislature, Right to Life of Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference, and two county prosecutors. They have asked the appeals court to throw out the injunction brought by Planned Parenthood and the Republican state legislature has filed a brief saying they would defend the 1931 law in court. All Republican candidates running for attorney general and secretary of state in Michigan’s midterm election support the 1931 law but their view and the state legislatures view on abortion does not convey the will of the residents of Michigan at large. 

A recent survey discovered that a majority of state voters did not approve of overturning Roe v. Wade, believe that abortion should be a choice made by women and not regulated by law, are against the 1931 law and believe that it needs to be repealed. Due to recent developments there is the potential of a statewide referendum vote this fall to enshrine abortion access into the state constitution.