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Whitmer issues legal challenge to 1931 Michigan abortion law

The Roe v. Wade decision
Michigan Radio
The 1971 Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in the United States.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer has filed a lawsuit to protect abortion rights in Michigan even if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade.

The governor filed a legal challenge Thursday that seeks to strike down Michigan’s 1931 law that bans abortion except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.

She wants the Court to declare that abortion rights are protected by the state Constitution. She says that would prohibit local prosecutors from enforcing the 1931 law, which would go back into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Previously, Michigan Democrats have introduced bills that would explicitly repeal the 1931 law, and replace it with one that guarantees access to abortion. Those bills have not advanced through the Republican-dominated state Legislature.

Which is why Whitmer is going to court.

She says, “Since the Legislature is made up of leaders who don’t recognize the constitutional right of women to be full American citizens and have bodily autonomy, it was important for us to use these unique tools to take the issue right to the state Supreme Court.”

Whitmer is also asking the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and take the case right away. A case challenging Roe v. Wade is currently being decided in the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision is expected soon.

“We know that there is a determination coming from the United States Supreme Court in a matter of weeks, perhaps, and that’s why right now it’s crucial that the court acts swiftly and takes this case.”

The defendants in the case are prosecutors in 13 counties with medical clinics that perform abortions. The lawsuit seeks to prohibit prosecutors from enforcing Michigan’s abortion ban.

Other states are also moving to protect the right to abortion ahead of the Supreme Court's decision, including Colorado, while some are passing legislation to further restrict abortion rights should Roe be overturned.

Updated 11:37 a.m., April 7, 2022

Additionally, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Dr. Sarah Wallett filed a lawsuit Thursday, seeking to block enforcement of the same 1931 law that would ban abortion.

If the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, Michigan is one of 26 states that could move to eliminate abortion access. According to a press release, Planned Parenthood is "seeking an immediate court order restraining the Michigan Attorney General" from enforcing the unconstitutional ban against abortion providers.

“It is terrifying to think that Michiganders could wake up one day without the right to make their own medical decisions, and dedicated health care professionals could be imprisoned for providing essential health care," Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said via the press release. "We don’t have the luxury of complacency. Michigan’s antiquated and unconstitutional pre-Roe abortion ban is far too dangerous to leave on the books."

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
Jodi is Michigan Public's Director of Digital Audiences, leading and developing the station’s overall digital strategy.
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