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Anti-abortion groups get ready to canvass the state

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Anti-abortion groups will soon be on sidewalks and at events around the state, asking voters to support ballot measures that would restrict abortion in Michigan.

There are two ballot petitions that pertain to abortion. One would ban abortions when there is cardiac activity detected in the embryo or fetus - effectively banning abortions at around six to eight weeks. The other would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure known as a dilation and evacuation or D&E.

Both measures would make it a crime for doctors to perform such abortions and only include exceptions if the life of the mother is at risk. There are no exceptions for rape or incest.

Amanda West with Planned Parenthood of Michigan says her biggest concern is that people will support the petitions without understanding what they do.

A protester shows her support for Planned Parenthood outside the Supreme Court Building in 2016.

“We have deep concerns that folks aren’t really understanding that we’re criminalizing physicians for providing the best care for women,” said West. “We want to make sure that people have a true understanding of that’s really what’s at stake here.”

That’s because, West said, the petitions use language like “dismemberment abortion” and “partial birth abortion” in the case of the D&E procedure ban, and “fetal heartbeat protection” in the case of the cardiac activity ban. West said those are confusing and inflammatory terms

There are two groups behind the petitions. Both say they are being open and upfront about what is in their measures and what they would do.

Right to Life of Michigan is behind the D&E ban. Legislative Director Genevieve Marnon defended the petition.

“I did consult with doctors and I did consult the medical dictionary and the term dismemberment really does mean to remove limbs – arms and legs – it is common everyday language that everyone understands,” Marnon said.

Where things get tricky is when you realize that both groups would actually prefer it if their measures never got to the 2020 ballot. There are bills to do these same things in the Legislature, but many assume Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer will veto the bills if they hit her desk.

These new ballot initiatives would provide a workaround to that veto threat. If the measures get enough certified signatures, 349,047 to be exact, then they can go up for a vote in the state House and Senate.

Republicans currently hold a majority in the legislature. The anti-abortion groups are counting on that majority to pass these measures and if they do, they become law without the governor’s signature. 

Credit Michigan Heartbeat Coalition

Mark Gurley with the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition says the presidential election cycle will be heated enough without another ballot measure.

“We don’t need to have another ballot proposal there for people to actually vote on,” Gurley said. “Not when they call their Legislators and have them vote according to their wishes."

Senator Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) says she hopes that if these measures do come before the Legislature, they won’t get put up for a vote.

“None of my constituents asked for this,” she said. “This is an onslaught that is taking place on the national level to slowly chip away at women’s rights and especially in a time when we’re more divided than ever, we need to be focusing on issues that matter, not something that’s going to divide us.”

Anti-abortion advocates want these proposals to be challenged and go in front of a Supreme Court with a conservative majority.

They are betting big that if these measures get to the Supreme Court, it will turn the case into a referendum on Roe v. Wade.

This has a direct impact on Michigan because there is a state law that bans abortion.

However, the court could determine that abortions are not protected by a constitutional right to privacy. If that happens, then abortion could be completely outlawed in the state.

Michigan’s abortion ban would likely immediately be contested in the courts.