Michigan Supreme Court Puts Abortion Rights Initiative on the Ballot

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Thursday that an initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution must be placed on the November ballot, overriding GOP election officials’ decision to block the measure even though it received a record number of signatures from residents.

Writing for the majority, Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack dismissed Republican state canvassers’ claim that the ballot initiative is defective due to spacing issues in the text — an objection that campaigners said was a mere cover for the GOP officials’ opposition to the content of the measure.

“Even though there is no dispute that every word appears and appears legibly and in the correct order, and there is no evidence that anyone was confused about the text, two members of the Board of State Canvassers with the power to do so would keep the petition from the voters for what they purport to be a technical violation of the statute,” wrote McCormack.

“They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad,” the justice continued. “What a sad marker of the times.”

Loren Khogali, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan — part of the coalition leading the ballot initiative — applauded the court’s 5-2 ruling, which came after rights groups appealed the deadlocked Board of State Canvassers’ vote against placing the measure on the November ballot.

“A good day for democracy and the people of Michigan,” Khogali tweeted. “Get ready to vote Michigan. We have voting rights and reproductive freedom on the ballot.”

If approved, the measure would amend the Michigan constitution with a section explicitly affirming that “every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.”

The ballot initiative is years in the making, and the signature-collection process kicked off at the beginning of 2022 amid mounting fears of a Supreme Court assault on the constitutional right to abortion care. When the high court’s right-wing majority overturned Roe v. Wade in June, imperiling reproductive care in much of the U.S., petition organizing kicked into overdrive.

Campaigners ultimately collected 753,759 signatures for the Michigan initiative, more than any other ballot measure in the state’s history and far more than the 425,000 required. Organizers said they secured signatures from every county in the state.

“We are energized and motivated now more than ever to restore the protections that were lost under Roe,” Darci McConnell, a spokesperson for Michigan’s Reproductive Freedom for All campaign, said in a statement Thursday.

In the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling, abortion rights campaigners moved urgently to preserve and strengthen state-level abortion laws as Republican lawmakers emboldened by the end of Roe aimed to ban abortion outright. In Michigan, a draconian abortion ban dating back to 1931 has thus far been blocked by the courts, so abortion remains legal in the state with restrictions.

Michigan isn’t the only state with an abortion-related initiative on the ballot in November. Californians are set to vote on a proposition declaring that the state “shall not deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions.”

Voters in Kentucky and Montana, meanwhile, will decide whether to approve Republican-backed anti-abortion initiatives.

Earlier this year, voters in Kansas overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have paved the way for an all-out ban on abortion in the state.