Whitmer takes steps to protect right to abortion as U.S. Supreme Court weighs ‘Roe v. Wade’

The governor is asking Michigan’s Supreme Court to weigh in before the U.S. Supreme Court does

click to enlarge Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. - STATE OF MICHIGAN
State of Michigan
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit on Thursday asking the Democratic-majority Michigan Supreme Court to “immediately resolve whether Michigan’s Constitution protects the right to abortion.”

It’s the first time a governor has done so since the conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court signaled it could overturn the landmark decision that allows abortion, according to a statement from Whitmer’s office:

“In the coming weeks, we will learn if the U.S. Supreme Court decides to overturn Roe v. Wade. If Roe is overturned, abortion could become illegal in Michigan in nearly any circumstance — including in cases of rape and incest — and deprive Michigan women of the ability to make critical health care decisions for themselves. This is no longer theoretical: it is reality. That’s why I am filing a lawsuit and using my executive authority to urge the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately resolve whether Michigan’s state constitution protects the right to abortion.

However we personally feel about abortion, a woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions. A woman must be able to make her own medical decisions with the advice of a healthcare professional she trusts – politicians shouldn’t make that decision for her. Overturning Roe will criminalize abortion and impact nearly 2.2 million Michigan women. If a woman is forced to continue a pregnancy against her will, it can have devastating consequences, including keeping families in poverty and making it harder for women and families to make ends meet. A near total abortion ban would rob women of their reproductive freedom and the ability to decide whether and when to have a child. It also would rob women of their economic freedom and their right to decide whether to become a parent: the biggest economic decision a woman will make in her lifetime. No matter what happens to Roe, I am going to fight like hell and use all the tools I have as governor to ensure reproductive freedom is a right for all women in Michigan. If the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to protect the constitutional right to an abortion, the Michigan Supreme Court should step in. We must trust women — our family, neighbors, and friends — to make decisions that are best for them about their bodies and lives.”

The Supreme Court is weighing Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, a Mississippi case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision overrode Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion, but if Roe v. Wade is overturned, Michigan’s 91-year-old abortion ban would immediately go back into effect, making abortion once again illegal.

Whitmer’s lawsuit asks the court to recognize a constitutional right to an abortion under the due process clause of the Michigan Constitution and also asks the court to stop enforcement of the 1931 Michigan abortion ban.

The governor argues the abortion ban violates Michigan’s due process clause, which provides a right to privacy and bodily autonomy, and also violates Michigan’s equal protection clause “due to the way the ban denies women equal rights because the law was adopted to reinforce antiquated notions of the proper role for women in society,” according to the statement from Whitmer’s office.

Whitmer rose to national prominence in 2013 as a state Senator, opposing a controversial “rape insurance” measure that would require women to purchase a separate insurance rider to cover abortions by revealing that she had been sexually assaulted as a freshman at Michigan State University.

“I’m about to tell you something I’ve not shared with many people in my life. But over 20 years ago I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank god it didn't result in a pregnancy. Because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”

Anticipating a possible end to Roe, in Detroit, abortion rights activists have wheat-pasted posters around the city promoting shareabortionpill.info, a website that sells mail-order abortion pills across the country. To show how safe and effective the pills are, activist Jex Blackmore even took an abortion pill on live TV during a segment filmed for Fox 2.

According to a 2022 poll by WDIV/Detroit News, more than 67.3% of Michigan voters want Roe v. Wade left in place, and 65.7% say Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban should be repealed.

Nevertheless, Republicans have made overturning Roe v. Wade their priority.

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