LANSING, Mich. (AP) — An anti-abortion coalition in Michigan filed a challenge Thursday against a potential ballot initiative that seeks to enshrine abortion rights into the state’s constitution, claiming that 60 errors in the proposed amendment should disqualify it from the November ballot.
The alleged 60 errors deal with spacing and result in “strings of gibberish,” making the amendment “impossible to understand,” the coalition said in a statement. Errors identified by the group include, “DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY,” and “POSTPARTUMCARE.”
“Some people would say, ‘Oh, they’re just spaces,’ but amending the constitution is pretty serious business and the correct number of typos to put in your constitution is zero,” Christen Pollo, a spokeswoman for Citizens to Support MI Women and Children, told The Associated Press.
But Richard Primus, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Michigan Law School, said he believes the amendment’s language could be cleaned up and that typographical problems wouldn’t cause legal issues.
“There’s no reason to think that anyone didn’t understand what the petition was saying,” Primus said. “There have been typographical problems with things drafted for constitutions as long as there have been constitutions in the United States.”
Darci McConnell, a spokeswoman for the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign, said in a statement the group is confident the ballot proposal is in compliance with legal requirements and that a record number of registered voters “have read, understood and signed the petition in support of reproductive freedom for all.”
The Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative would affirm into Michigan’s Constitution the right to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference. The campaign submitted 753,759 signatures in July to qualify for the November ballot, which was close to double the 425,059 needed.
The Bureau of Elections is in the process of reviewing the petition’s signatures and has until Aug. 26 to submit a staff report outlining its findings and any challenges to the petition. The deadline for any challenges to the petition’s signatures was 5 p.m. Thursday.
The status of abortion in Michigan is expected to drastically impact the battleground state’s November general election, where the state’s Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel have made abortion rights a centerpiece of their reelection campaigns.
Nationally, abortion opponents were shocked and abortion rights advocates energized by a decisive statewide vote in heavily Republican Kansas earlier this month in favor of protecting abortion access, but it’s not likely to translate into new abortion votes across the U.S. in the November election.
Three other states besides Michigan — California, Kentucky and Vermont — could have votes in November on abortion access, and a fifth, Montana, is voting on a measure that would require abortion providers to give lifesaving treatment to a fetus that is born alive after a botched abortion.
The state’s Board of Canvassers, an independent entity comprised of two Democrats and two Republicans, is expected to meet on Aug. 31 to determine whether abortion access will be on the ballot in November. The Citizens to Support MI Women and Children challenge, which was filed with the Bureau of Elections, calls for the Board of Canvassers to reject the proposed amendment.
The ballot initiative's language was approved by the Board of Canvassers during a March 23 meeting with the condition that an extra “the” be removed from a header. The coalition alleges that the revised version, submitted on March 30, contained the errors and was never approved.
The challenge came on the final day of a state court hearing to determine whether county prosecutors should be blocked from enforcing the state’s pre-Roe abortion ban. A state judge ruled before the hearing that abortion would remain legal in the state until he made a final determination.
This week’s court hearing stems from a restraining order issued by Oakland County Judge Jacob Cunningham earlier this month following a request of attorneys representing Whitmer, who favors abortion rights.
Several county prosecutors had planned to begin enforcing the state’s 1931 abortion ban – triggered by the fall of Roe – after an appeals court ruled earlier this month that a preliminary injunction blocking the law only applied to the attorney general's office, not county prosecutors who handle most crimes.
Cunningham heard witness testimony Wednesday and Thursday from abortion experts, providers and the chief medical officer in the state. He is expected to rule Friday.
The decision following this week’s court hearing will only temporarily determine whether county prosecutors can enforce the ban, with a more permanent ruling on the legality of abortion in the state expected to come from either the Michigan Supreme Court or from voters in the fall.
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.