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Michigan court temporarily bars enforcement of state's 1931 abortion ban

A protester holds a sign that reads "Protect Abortion Access."
Jodi Westrick
Michigan Radio
An abortion rights protester holds a sign in front of a counter protester in Ann Arbor.

Update: Wednesday, May 25, 6:15 p.m.

The Michigan Court of Appeals has opened the door to opponents of abortion rights who are trying to overturn a recent decision that suspended the state's long-dormant ban on the procedure.

The court set a briefing schedule that runs through July 5. A judge at the Court of Claims last week issued a preliminary injunction that freezes a 1931 ban on abortion in most instances. If the injunction stands, it means abortion would not be illegal in Michigan if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by summer. Right to Life of Michigan, the Michigan Catholic Conference, and two county prosecutors are asking the appeals court to throw out the injunction.

Original Post: Tuesday, May 17, 2:17 p.m.

The Michigan Court of Claims has granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Dr. Sarah Wallett. This decision temporarily halts the enforcement of the state’s 1931 abortion ban if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

This decision itself does not declare the 1931 law, which makes abortion a felony and does not grant exceptions for rape or incest, unconstitutional. Instead, it grants time for the legal challenges to proceed before allowing the law to take effect.

Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher released the decision early Tuesday afternoon, and said that she sees “a strong likelihood the plaintiffs will succeed on the merits of their constitutional challenge.”

Partly, that's because Michigan's constitution includes a right to bodily integrity and due process, according to Planned Parenthood attorney Deborah Labelle. “It’s the right to be let alone. To make your own choices that are crucial to your own bodily integrity and liberty, by yourself and without state interference," she said.

The preliminary injunction temporarily "holds everything to the status quo, and gives a great deal of relief to the anxieties about whether Michigan women would have these rights that we've had for 50 years," even if Roe is overturned, Labelle said.
“Right now, all the rights of women in Michigan to reproductive freedom are protected until this case is over."

Labelle said the Michigan Supreme Court will almost certainly have the final say on the matter. Attorney General Dana Nessel, technically the defendant in the case and an abortion rights supporter, publicly applauded the ruling and she will not appeal. But Labelle said other groups with standing, such as the state legislature, could intervene to do so.

According to Gongwer, anti-abortion groups called for Judge Gleicher’s recusal from the case, based on her previous contributions to Planned Parenthood of Michigan and prior work with the ACLU.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has also filed a separate lawsuit asking the Michigan Supreme Court to overturn the 1931 law. The court has not yet issued a decision on that case, and has not indicated when a decision may be made.

In early May, a draft U.S. Supreme Court opinion was leaked, indicating Roe would likely be overturned, spurring the lawsuits against Michigan's long dormant law against abortions.

Emma Ruberg joined Michigan Radio in January as the Digital News Intern. She recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a double major in political science and communications and previously worked as a Senior News Editor for The Michigan Daily covering government and public safety.
Emma is a communications specialist with the digital team at Michigan Radio. She works across all departments at Michigan Radio, with a hand in everything from digital marketing and fundraising to graphic design and website maintenance. She also produces the station's daily newsletter, The Michigan Radio Beat.
Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
The Associated Press is an independent global news organization dedicated to factual reporting.
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