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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times Editorial Board

Editorial: Michigan voters can show the country how to protect abortion rights

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June and took away a constitutional right to an abortion that had been in place for nearly half a century, the justices in the majority said abortion laws should be left up to the states.

Reproductive rights advocates in Michigan were way ahead. Alarmed that the Supreme Court didn’t block the diabolical Texas law that bans abortions at six weeks of gestation and empowers private citizens to enforce it by suing anyone who helps a woman get an abortion, they had already begun the process of putting a measure on the November ballot that would enshrine in the state constitution a right to abortion. They eventually submitted more than 750,000 signatures (far more than the 425,000 they needed.) When a state elections board refused to certify the measure on a technicality, abortion rights advocates took the issue to the state’s Supreme Court, which overrode the election board’s decision and ordered Proposal 3, as it is known, onto the ballot.

Across the country, voters are weighing in on abortion rights — through the candidates they choose and the proposals they vote for or against. Inflation and the economy loom large this election year, but reproductive rights, which can dictate life-long decisions, transcend those immediate issues. If you cannot control what happens to your body, you have less freedom than you had last year.

A record six states have put some kind of abortion-related measure on their ballots this year. In a special election over the summer, Kansas residents decisively voted down a measure stating that nothing in the Kansas constitution ensured a right to an abortion.

Kentucky, where an abortion ban is now in effect, has a ballot measure, similar to the Kansas one, stating that nothing in the constitution protects a right to abortion. Montana has a ballot measure requiring medical treatment for infants born alive after induced labor, caesarean section or attempted abortion. Under federal law, healthcare providers already care for infants in these situations, but the course of treatment is generally left to the doctors and parents. The Montana Medical Assn. as well as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have opposed the policy, arguing it could mandate aggressive treatment in complex and tragic situations where it’s uncalled for.

The Michigan proposal would amend the state constitution to guarantee a right to abortion. California and Vermont will vote on similar amendments, but both states already protect abortion rights so there is less at stake.

Michigan is a purplish state with a Democratic governor — up for reelection — and a Republican-led legislature. The state narrowly went for Biden in 2020 after narrowly going for Trump in 2016. During the years that Roe v. Wade was in place, abortion was legal in Michigan up to the point of fetal viability, but state law also contained various unnecessary restrictions such as mandatory counseling, a 24-hour waiting period after counseling, and parental consent for minors.

At the moment, abortion is still legal, but only because Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Witmer got injunctions blocking a 1931 state abortion ban that would bar almost all abortions except ones deemed necessary to save the life of the pregnant person. That old law would have gone into effect otherwise after the Supreme Court decision.

Michigan voters can show the nation that they will not allow fundamental rights to be taken away. Americans with varied political leanings want the right to abortion protected in this country. In a poll recently commissioned by a Michigan TV station and the Detroit News, nearly 62% of voters supported Proposal 3.

If the ballot measure is defeated, there is no guarantee that the injunctions against the 1931 abortion ban will remain in place. And despite multiple state bills to repeal that law, the legislature has refused to do so.

And even if the 1931 abortion ban is permanently blocked, without a constitutional right to abortion, the legislature could concoct some other restrictive abortion law.

Doctors who provide abortions are right to worry about what they legally can do without a strong right to abortion in the state constitution. Timothy Johnson, a maternal fetal medicine specialist in Ann Harbor, said based on his reading of the language of the 1931 law, “it would not allow for the care of ectopic pregnancies or miscarriages.” Johnson said that would not stop him from treating an ectopic pregnancy. But, he noted, doctors are concerned that abortion laws could criminalize their medical care; “It’s that chaos and confusion we would like to avoid with Proposal 3.”

Michigan voters should vote to ensure that no one in the state will have to endure that kind of uncertainty.

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