Michigan Planned Parenthood head calls SCOTUS overturning Roe ‘tragic’ and ‘unprecedented’

click to enlarge Hundreds rally at the state Capitol for the MI Body MI Choice event on Oct. 2, 2021. - ALLISON R. DONAHUE
Allison R. Donahue
Hundreds rally at the state Capitol for the MI Body MI Choice event on Oct. 2, 2021.

A draft decision from the U.S. Supreme Court leaked Monday night, giving the world a glimpse of how close the country is to rolling back a nearly 50-year-old ruling that secured the legal right to an abortion. 

“This is tragic. It is unprecedented. It is not the will of the people and the electorate. It’s a very devastating disappointment,” said Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. during a phone interview Tuesday morning with the Advance

The Supreme Court, which is considered to have its most right-wing makeup in decades, heard arguments on a Mississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks in December. Abortion access advocates have been waiting on a decision, which was expected to be released by end of the court’s term in June.

However, Politico obtained a draft of a majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that the court has said is authentic. It would strike down the 1973 landmark decision in Roe v. Wade.

The leaked draft isn’t final, and votes could still change. But abortion advocates in Michigan, where access to reproductive rights are on shaky ground, are preparing for “the worst-case scenario.”

If Roe is overturned, Michigan would fall back on a 1931 state law that criminalizes abortions in all instances unless it is to protect the life of the pregnant woman. This law has stayed on the books for over 90 years, but has been moot since Roe was decided.

“That would mean that the 2.2 million Michiganders who are of reproductive age and pregnant-capable would be forced to carry pregnancies to term even if they do not want them and they would be forced to to allow others … to make decisions about their bodies and their personal medical decisions and their reproductive health,” said Wells Stallworth. “This is a deeply personal matter. The decision to end a pregnancy is one that is deeply personal, and we believe that it should be kept with the individual and their medical health provider.”

Over the last month, there have been two attempts in Michigan to enshrine the right to abortion care in the state Constitution through the courts — one lawsuit filed by Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the other by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan abortion provider Dr. Sarah Wallett.

Whitmer’s lawsuit seeks to recognize the right to an abortion under the state Constitution and to strike down the state’s 1931 abortion ban law.

The Planned Parenthood lawsuit aims to block enforcement of the state’s 1931 felony abortion ban.

Another avenue to secure abortion access is Michigan is through the ballot. In January, Reproductive Freedom for All formed to get a petition on the 2022 ballot protect reproductive freedom, including access to abortion, before voters in the November election. The coalition includes Planned Parenthood of Michigan, the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and Michigan Voices.

The proposal, if passed, would amend the state Constitution to explicitly affirm Michiganders’ right to make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth. 

Wells Stallworth said the coalition has gathered more than 50,000 signatures since it began collecting signatures at the beginning of April. The ballot initiative will need 425,059 signatures — 10% of the total votes cast in the 2018 gubernatorial election — to go directly to the ballot for voters to decide. 

“This is one of the most essential strategies that we are working on,” Wells Stallworth said. “We believe that it is a constitutional right, that a person’s right to privacy involves their ability to have an abortion, that equal treatment within the law … include the right to have an abortion. We believe any abortion ban is unconstitutional, but also is it violates a person’s civil rights and is discriminatory. And so we’re doing everything that we can to prevent abortion bans from taking hold in the state of Michigan.”

Right to Life of Michigan did not respond to a request for comment.

Originally published May 3, 2022 on Michigan Advance, it is shared here with permission.

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