AG Nessel won’t prosecute women or doctors who violate Michigan’s abortion ban

Michigan attorney general believes women will die under the state’s 1931 law, which would go back into effect if ‘Roe’ is overturned

click to enlarge Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel. - Michigan Governor's Office
Michigan Governor's Office
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel pledged Tuesday that she won’t prosecute anyone under the 1931 state law that bans abortion, saying it’s unconstitutional and that women are likely going to die.

“I’m not going to enforce the law, nor will I defend the law, which I believe is unconstitutional,” Nessel said at a news conference. She added, “I don’t want to do anything that will cause women to be seriously harmed or die. This is not what I’m going to utilize the resources of the state on.”

But, Nessel acknowledged, county prosecutors would still have authority to enforce the abortion ban, which offers no exception for rape or incest.

Nessel pointed out that there are other laws in Michigan, including one that bans adultery and sodomy, that she and her predecessors have refused to enforce.

Nessel said she believes the abortion ban will go into effect as soon as the U.S. Supreme Court issues its official decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

“It’s my opinion that the law goes into immediate effect,” Nessel said. “Theo only thing that is making this law unenforceable is Roe v. Wade, and once Roe v. Wade is overturned, I don’t see any way that this law doesn’t immediately spring back.”

The law gives authority to prosecutors to charge doctors who perform abortions and women who self-abort, Nessel said.

Under the law, the only exception is for women who will die if they give birth. But, Nessel said, there is no wiggle room for women who may die.

“You would have to actually show that the woman is going to die,” Nessel said.

As a result, she said, many doctors are not going to risk performing abortions for women whose lives are at risk.

“This will have a chilling effect that doctors will not perform this procedure under any set of circumstances because they don’t want to face the possibility of being prosecuted,” Nessel said.

Nessel said she’s worried that other hard-fought rights, such as gay marriage, will be abolished under the conservative Supreme Court.

“I can see some of the seminal cases being overturned,” Nessel said.

In 2014, before she became attorney general, Nessel successfully argued for the plaintiffs in DeBoer v. Snyder, which declared that Michigan's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The case was eventually combined with others and appealed to the Supreme Court as Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage in the U.S.

With so much at stake, Nessel said she expects the Supreme Court’s decision to galvanize voters.

“There is one party that completely and totally supports a woman’s right to choose, and there is another that completely opposes it,” Nessel said. “Abortion is on the ballot. You can choose candidates who would like to curtail the rights of women or you could choose candidates who support the reproductive rights for women.”

The Republican candidate for attorney general, Matt DePerno, said he supports the abortion ban.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling is an award-winning investigative journalist who operated Motor City Muckraker, an online news site devoted to exposing abuses of power and holding public officials accountable. Neavling also hosted Muckraker Report on 910AM from September 2017 to July 2018. Before launching Motor City Muckraker,...
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