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Abortion rights opponents sue to overturn Prop 3

Thousands of abortion rights opponents gathered at the capitol on the one-year anniversary of the passage of Proposal 3.
Kate Wells/Michigan Radio
Thousands of abortion rights opponents gathered at the capitol on the one-year anniversary of the passage of Proposal 3.

One year after Michigan voters overwhelmingly passed Proposal 3, enshrining abortion rights in the state constitution, abortion rights opponents announced they had filed a federal lawsuit claiming the amendment violated the U.S. Constitution.

Standing on the rain-slicked steps of the state Capitol building Wednesday, groups like Right to Life of Michigan rallied thousands of supporters gathered for what was billed as the “first-ever Michigan March for Life.”

“Let’s continue to work together to fight for the right of the life of the unborn!” Missy Parker-Miller, an adoption advocate and foster parent, told the cheering crowd.

Activists, religious leaders and legislative members of Michigan’s “ProLife Caucus” attacked Proposal 3 as a dangerous, “extreme” measure that would ultimately harm women and undermine the rights of parents. Organizers urged attendees to contact state lawmakers and demand they “stand up for parent rights by keeping parental consent for abortion in place in Michigan.”

“In addition to the dangerous Reproductive Health Act, there is an upcoming threat to our parental rights,” Parker-Miller told the crowd, her voice echoing from the loudspeakers set up around the Capitol lawn.

“And that is the issue of removal of parental consent related to a minor child seeking an abortion. I'm horrified by this as a parent, okay? I would want to be involved in such an important decision in my child's life. So this is definitely something that we have to stand up and continue to fight against. Because that's coming down the pike!”

The battles over abortion in Michigan’s Legislature 

In the lead-up to the November 2022 election, abortion opponents campaigned heavily against Proposal 3, alleging it would overturn Michigan’s parental consent law. That law requires a minor to obtain written parental consent for an abortion, or seek a waiver from the courts. That campaign effectively made the issue of parental consent too risky for Democratic leaders to even attempt to overturn this legislative session — even though they held control of the state House, Senate and governorship for the first time in decades.

So when Democrats introduced the Reproductive Health Act earlier this year to remove several of the abortion restrictions that remain on the books, they left parental-consent laws in place.

“We saw a lot of disinformation and outright lies about what the current law is around parental notification, and what a removal of that would look like,” Democratic State Representative Laurie Pohutsky, a lead sponsor of the RHA, said when it was introduced in September. “So unfortunately, we are having to do a lot of education both with constituents, and frankly even with some of our own members about what is actually happening and what the repeal of that law would mean.”

Less than 24 hours before the March for Life rally, Democrats passed a pared-down version of the original Reproductive Health Act. The bills on their way to Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s desk achieve some of what House and Senate leaders originally wanted, including repealing a 2012 law signed by then-Governor Rick Snyder, a Republican, requiring facilities that perform 120 or more procedural abortions a year be licensed as free-standing surgical centers. Another bill allows private health insurance to cover abortion care, without having to purchase an additional rider that Democrats have said amounts to “rape insurance.”

But Democrats weren’t able to get enough votes from their own members to remove two additional restrictions on abortion that remain on the books: allowing Medicaid to cover abortion, and removing a 24-hour mandatory waiting period and informed consent form that patients must find, sign, print and bring to their appointment. The form requires patients to review a parenting pamphlet and illustrations of fetal development, and it must be signed at least 24 hours, but no more than 2 weeks, before their appointment begins — otherwise, it can’t proceed. (Each month, about 150 patients at Planned Parenthood of Michigan alone are turned away from their appointments because they’ve made a mistake with the forms.)

A new lawsuit seeking to overturn Prop 3 

In the complaint released Wednesday, abortion rights opponents argue 2022's Proposal 3 violates the U.S. Constitution in several ways.

First, they claim it “causes great harm to pregnant women … by exempting them from the legal protections afforded to other classes of individuals in violation of the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

And the suit says Prop 3 “violates parental rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment as it deprives parents of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their minor children by excluding them from their children’s decisions regarding ‘reproduction.’”

Plaintiffs also claim Michigan’s reproductive rights amendment conflicts with the free exercise of religion, by “overriding any objection on religious grounds to endorsing, providing, or supporting procedures involving” abortion and contraception. And they say it “deprives preborn babies … of the right to life without due process of law” and “creates an unprecedented, super-right to ‘reproductive freedom’ that remains immune from any legislative action.”

Whether the suit gains any traction in federal court remains to be seen. But in a statement Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Michigan President and CEO Paula Thornton Greear said the lawsuit seeks to strip voters “of their fundamental right to reproductive freedom.”

“As we saw last year in Michigan and again last night in Ohio: abortion is a winning issue,” Thornton Greear said in a statement. “The Republican party knows it, too, but rather than admit that they are dramatically out of step with American values and American voters, they resort to dirty tactics like these instead. This baseless lawsuit is nothing but a brazen political attempt to overturn the will of the people and impose dangerous anti-abortion policies on an electorate that doesn’t want them.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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