LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan Board of Solicitors on Wednesday rejected an abortion rights initiative after its two Republican members voted against the proposed constitutional amendment in the November ballot.
Both council Democrats voted in favour, but getting the measure on the ballot required at least three votes from the four-member council. The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign, which collected signatures to put the measure on the ballot, is expected to appeal to the Democratic-leaning Michigan Supreme Court in the coming days.
The council’s verdict is not expected to be the final word on the proposed constitutional amendment, which seeks to strike down a 91-year-old state law that would ban abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. . But the meeting drew hundreds of people, who filled the courtroom and additional rooms for a chance to comment. Opponents of abortion also demonstrated outside.
Michigan’s 1931 law – which abortion opponents hoped would be triggered by a conservative majority in the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade in June – remains stalled after months of legal battles. A state judge ruled Aug. 19 that Republican county prosecutors could not enforce the ban, saying it was “in the public interest to let the people of the great state of Michigan decide this matter in the urns”.
Both sides have indicated they will file appeals with the state’s Democratic-leaning Supreme Court if the ruling goes against them. Supporters of another initiative that didn’t pass Wednesday – a move to expand voting, including adding ballot boxes – are also expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Groups have seven working days to appeal and the ballot must be finalized by September 9.
The Office of Elections verified last Thursday that the Abortion Vote Initiative petition contained enough valid signatures for the amendment to be eligible for ballot and recommended that the Board of State Solicitors approve the measure. . The board does not always follow the board’s recommendations.
Abortion rights have become a powerful motivator for voters since Roe was ousted. In conservative Kansas, voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed the Republican-controlled Legislature to tighten restrictions or outright ban the procedure, and the issue swayed votes in special elections for Congress, including in an upstate New York battleground district. Nationally, Democrats have seen an increase in fundraising since the Supreme Court ruling.
Having abortion rights on the November ballot would almost certainly be a boon for Democrats in Michigan, a swing state where voters will also decide whether Democrats keep control of statewide offices. including the Governor and the Secretary of State. Governor Gretchen Whitmer and other Democrats have put abortion rights at the center of their campaigns, and after Republicans chose businesswoman Tudor Dixon as the GOP’s gubernatorial candidate, Democrats released an ad castigating her strong opposition to abortion, including in cases of rape and incest.
The organization behind the abortion ballot initiative has turned in more than 700,000 petition signatures — a record number for any ballot initiative in the state — providing names, addresses and phone numbers that can be used as contacts with voters during the campaign season.
Abortion opponents protested loudly outside as the meeting began on Wednesday. Their muffled cries could be heard inside the courtroom, and the Republican board chairman at one point asked security to tell them to stop knocking on the windows.
During the public comment period, Dr Jessica Frost, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Lansing, told the council “we need to restore the reproductive protections lost when Roe was knocked down.”
Opponents said the language of the ballot was confusing. Several called abortion immoral and warned council members against approving it.
“I can’t imagine a more important decision you have to make in your life, because I know you and I will kneel before Christ one day and answer for the decision you make today,” Billy Putman said. .
The Michigan Board of Solicitors, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, has become increasingly partisan in recent years.
The board made national headlines after the 2020 presidential election when a member, who has since resigned, abstained from voting to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the state. The other GOP board member, who voted to certify, was not renominated by the state’s GOP party and was replaced by Tony Daunt, the board chairman.
Earlier this year, two leading GOP gubernatorial candidates were dropped from the primary ballot after the board hung on partisan lines over whether too many fraudulent signatures on their documents nomination made them ineligible. A tie vote meant that the candidates lost.
The council also voted on Wednesday not to place another initiative, to expand voting in the state, on the fall ballot, though the committee backing the measure is expected to appeal the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court.
The measure would expand voter rights by allowing nine days of in-person early voting, publicly funded mail-in ballot postage and drop boxes in every community. The four-member board split 2-2, with Democrats voting to certify the ballot initiative and Republicans opposing certification, saying some of its language is unclear.