A law protecting abortion access appears likely to reach the Michigan ballot this fall

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Abortion rights are likely to be on the ballot in Michigan this fall, according to organizers working to ensure that the procedure remains legal in the state.

The Reproductive Freedom for All initiative, which is being pushed by an alliance of groups that include the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, would make abortion a constitutional right in Michigan if it’s approved by voters.

To make the ballot this November, the initiative requires 425,059 signatures from registered Michigan voters. Earlier this week, a leading organizer said they had blown past that threshold and were nearing 800,000 signatures.

Abortion rights demonstrators hold signs reading: Mind your own uterus and Your freedom of religion is not supreme to my freedom from it.
Abortion rights demonstrators during a national day of protest in Lansing, Mich., on Monday. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Abortion is still legal in Michigan following last month’s blockbuster Supreme Court ruling, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that returned the issue to the states. However, Michigan still has a dormant 1931 law on the books that criminalizes the procedure, leading to confusion among patients and providers despite a court order in May blocking the law from being implemented.

The Republican-controlled state legislature wants the 1931 law to take effect, while Gov. Gretchen Whitmer hopes the state Supreme Court declares it unconstitutional and Attorney General Dana Nessell says her office won’t enforce it. Both Whitmer and Nessell are Democrats up for reelection in November.

Jessica Ayoub, the ACLU of Michigan’s field director, told Yahoo News that organizing around the ballot initiative took off in May after a draft ruling in the Dobbs case was leaked to the press. And it quickly took on a new urgency when the Supreme Court formally overturned Roe v. Wade in late June.

“Just within the 24 hours that happened post Supreme Court decision, volunteers set up rapid-response signing events across the state. And then in the past week alone, we’ve had about 200 of those rapid response signing events,” Ayoub said, noting that organizers are receiving sets of signatures numbering in the thousands from all across the state.

The effort has received some high-profile endorsements. Eminem, a Detroit native, tweeted a link to the initiative’s website late last month. “As a father it pisses me off that women have fewer rights 2day than just a few days ago... we r f***in goin backwards. Here’s how 2 help in Michigan,” the rapper wrote to his 22 million followers on the platform.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at podium with two small microphones.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks at the Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Mich., on Sept, 16, 2021. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)

Ayoub noted that since Michigan allows online voter registration, they’ve had instances where someone who wasn’t registered to vote has done so and then circled back to the canvassers to hand over their signature.

Ayoub declined to say how many signatures organizers had received at this point, telling Yahoo News full details would be released at the Monday deadline. She did, however, say there was an “unprecedented outpouring of support.”

While a number of Democrats have complained about the lack of direction and bold action among national party leaders, the ballot measure effort has provided an outlet for Michiganders who want to respond to the ruling in a tangible way.

“That has been sort of the common refrain from our volunteers and activists on the ground,” Ayoub said.

“One of our rockstar volunteers out of the Ann Arbor area ... she said, ‘Thank you so much. Because if I didn’t have this, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know what I could have done and I would feel really helpless right now.’ And so our volunteers continue to tell us that they are just grateful to have a space to help Michigan become a blueprint for how states can expand and protect access in a post-Roe world.”

Abortion rights demonstrators hold signs reading: Don't like abortion? Just ignore it like you ignore children in foster care. Ban forced birth. And others.
Abortion rights demonstrators in Lansing on Monday. (Emily Elconin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Getting the measure on the ballot is only step one, as it will still need to be approved by a majority of the state’s voters in November to pass. Ayoub said that should the signature campaign prove successful, supporters will pivot to “talking to our friends, family, neighbors and voters to make sure that everyone knows Reproductive Freedom for All will be on the November ballot and we will be laser focused on getting folks to vote yes.”

A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll found that only 33% of Americans agreed with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Other polls have indicated confidence in the court has reached record lows.

State Sen. Mallory McMorrow, a Democrat up for reelection this fall who gained national attention earlier this year for her response to Republican attacks, told Yahoo News in a statement that the "initiative is one piece of a plan that also includes legislation and taking it to the courts."

"This historic response sends the message loud and clear: Michiganders will not only restore access to abortion, but ensure that an out-of-touch political minority will never again rip away one of our fundamental rights, unchallenged," McMorrow continued. "What we’re doing in Michigan should be a blueprint for other states to fight back from the ground-up to restore and protect our freedoms."

If the initiative is successful, Michigan will join a number of other states where legal abortion will be on the ballot in November, including California, Kentucky, Montana and Vermont. Meanwhile in Kansas, voters in next month’s primary will decide whether to approve an anti-abortion amendment to the state constitution.

Grassroots organizers in Michigan have had some success when it comes to ballot initiatives in recent years. In 2018, voters legalized marijuana, created an independent redistricting commission and created a constitutional protection for voting rights.

“Increasingly, I think what we are seeing now is that, as the courts are shifting, and as we see opinions like the Dobbs opinion that came down just over a week ago, direct democracy is one of the strongest tools in our tool belt to protect our rights for generations to come,” Ayoub said.