Pending the US Supreme Court hearing the landmark case of Roe v. Wade to protect abortion rights, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is suing her state’s district attorneys to protect legal abortion.
The move comes as Democratic governors across the country prepare to make decisions about abortion accessfor the first time in more than 50 years, a potentially critical issue likely to arise in the midterm elections.
Whitmer is preemptively suing 13 elected district attorneys in Michigan who have an abortion clinic under their jurisdiction, a move aimed at circumventing a 1931 Michigan abortion law that would prohibit abortion even in cases of rape or incest. The law, which is still on the books, is not currently in effect because the 1973 federal ruling in Roe v. Wade replaces state law and protects women’s abortion rights. But if Roe v. Wade is knocked over, it would be triggered automatically.
Whitmer, who is running for re-election in November, is using a state-specific constitutional power she was given as governor to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to directly hear her case and recognize an abortion right. The Democrats currently have a 4-3 majority on the Michigan Supreme Court.
“It’s no longer theory, it’s reality,” Whitmer said in a statement about the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court would rule Roe v. Wade could cancel in this session. “However we personally feel about abortion, a woman’s health, not politics, should drive important medical decisions. A woman needs to be able to make her own medical decisions with the advice of a healthcare professional she trusts – politicians should not make that decision for her.”
She added that a total abortion ban, like Michigan’s 1931 law, would deprive women of their productive and economic freedom.
“Regardless of what happens to Roe, I will fight like hell and use every resource I have as governor to ensure that all women in Michigan have the right to reproductive freedom and abortion should the Michigan Supreme Court intervene,” added her.
At the same time, several groups, including the ACLU of Michigan, are collecting signatures for a ballot measure to protect Michigan’s abortion rights. If they get the necessary signatures, this measure could be up for a vote as early as November.
This comes as the US Supreme Court is due to rule by the end of June in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which is examining the constitutionality of Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. If the Supreme Court, now with a 6-3 Conservative majority, weakened or struck down Roe in this session, the Mississippi case would likely be the vehicle.
If Roe v. If Wade were repealed, more than 2 million Michigan women would lose access to a safe and legal abortion, Whitmer’s office says. Across the country, 26 states are expected to ban abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research organization.
Colorado Governor Jared Polis, another Democrat up for re-election,into state law earlier this year. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy also signed legislation in January protecting women’s abortion rights. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation last month that also eliminates the cost of abortions. In Vermont, a constitutional amendment will be put before voters in November.
Unlike those Democratic governors who sign laws passed by Democratic legislators, Whitmer’s path is through the courts because the Michigan legislature is majority Republican and would not pass legislation protecting abortion rights.
Republican governors and lawmakers have also made plans, given the possibility that federal abortion law could change. They have taken on the legislature to restrict access to abortion. In March, the Texas Supreme Court allowed the recently passed abortion ban to remain in place. Last month, the governor of Arizona signed a 15-week ban on abortion, the governor of Idaho signed a 6-week ban on abortion, and the governor of South Dakota also signed abortion restrictions. On Tuesday, the Oklahoma state house approved a bill that would do that.
Republicans are preparing to counter Democrats on abortion by pressuring Democratic candidates on what abortion limits they advocate. They point to a recent debate in Arizona where Democratic gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs has not indicated whether she supports the current state’s 15-week abortion ban.
“That’s the question being asked of every pro-abortion Democratic candidate running for office this year. The inability or refusal of this Democratic gubernatorial nominee to provide an answer underscores the importance of this question,” said Republican National Committee spokesman Nathan Brand.
Before the Supreme Court decisiona majority of Americans found support for keeping Roe v Wade in place. If the landmark abortion case is overturned, most say they still want abortion to remain legal in their state.