ST. CLAIR SHORES, Mich (Reuters) – The final front in America’s war on abortion was fought last week on an idyllic summer evening by Lake Michigan.
Outside a park where children ate waffle cones and hundreds listened to a concert in the band’s shell, volunteers collected signatures in favor of putting a measure on the November ballot that would change the state constitution to protect the right to abortion.
Their task took on new urgency after the United States Supreme Court on June 24 overturned the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade who had legalized abortion nationwide and left the matter to individual states to regulate.
In Michigan, where opinion polls show the majority of people support abortion rights, Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer has sued to strike down a 1931 state law that makes abortion abortion a crime and establishes a constitutional right to abortion. A court has temporarily blocked the law’s enforcement, but Republicans who control the state legislature want to maintain the book ban or enact a new one.
Political tensions in Michigan over the future of abortion could be a harbinger of what could unfold in a handful of other US states with similar dynamics – an electorate that favors regulated abortion rights by a legislature determined to restrict them.
Whitmer has made protecting abortion rights a centerpiece of her re-election campaign this year, saying she can veto any attempt by the legislature to pass a new ban.
“It could very quickly go from a state where abortion is safe and legal to a state that makes it illegal without exception,” Whitmer said in an interview Friday. “It’s a very real threat.”
Whitmer said she would push for the campaign measure if her own efforts to legalize abortion fail in court.
The coalition of abortion rights and progressive groups behind the petition faces a July 11 deadline to collect around 425,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. As she collected signatures outside the park in St. Clair Shores last week, volunteer Deborah Karcher, 46, said direct action was the best way to save reproductive rights.
“It’s the will of the people,” Karcher said. “Even if you don’t agree with that, let’s put it on the ballot. Let the people decide.”
Opponents of the ballot measure, including religious and anti-abortion groups, also rallied, saying the language of the amendment would open the door to late-term abortions and block parental notification when minors request the procedure.
Outside of Michigan, a voter backlash on abortion restrictions could feature in elections in other states, including Arizona, Georgia, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, all of which have a competitive race for governor or U.S. Senate this year.
Louis Jacobson, a policy analyst at the University of Virginia Center for Policy, said those states are “where the rubber is really going to hit the road on this issue.”
With President Joe Biden and his Democratic party under fire on issues like inflation and crime, abortion “is the first potential issue that could boost Democrats rather than hurt them,” Jacobson said. .
Whitmer is counting on it. The governor’s first term has been rocked by right-wing criticism of the state’s COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and schools. But recent polls have shown that more voters approve of his performance in office than Biden’s.
Whitmer said she was raised by a Republican father who supported abortion rights, and she hopes to reach out to Republicans and independents who share those views.
“We know that 70% of people in our state support that a woman can make her own health decisions and that abortion is an option,” Whitmer said. “That means he crosses party lines.”
Whitmer’s Republican challengers, who will face each other in a primary on August 2, all support the abortion ban and oppose the ballot measure.
National Democrats have placed Michigan on the shortlist of states where they believe they can shift the balance of power in the state legislature as part of what the party calls its “States to Save Roe” campaign.
The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party arm that backs candidates for state legislatures, said it was raising money to provide strategic planning and analysis of voter data to support races in states such as the Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Donations to the committee have tripled since Roe was ousted, according to Gabrielle Chew, spokesperson for the group, although she could not provide specific numbers.
According to advocacy group the Center for Reproductive Rights, courts in 11 states have ruled that their state constitutions protect the right to abortion. Legal challenges in other states like Florida are ongoing.
The proposed amendment to Michigan’s constitution would establish a right to “reproductive freedom” and would apply to decisions about fertility treatments and contraception as well as abortion. Opponents of the ballot measure called the amendment’s language too broad.
The opposition coalition tried to appeal to moderate abortion-rights supporters, as well as those who oppose abortion, to convince them not to back the ballot measure, the door said. -lyrics Christen Pollo.
“Even if you’re pro-choice, even if you support abortion, you should reject this abortion amendment,” Pollo said. “A majority of Michiganders do not support unregulated abortion.”
Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, noted that the amendment would allow the legislature to regulate abortions after fetal viability — the original standard set by Roe.
“This constitutional amendment would create a broad safety net for people wishing to own their own bodily autonomy with respect to their reproductive rights and reproductive freedoms,” Wells Stallworth said. “This measure is something that benefits everyone.”
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Will Dunham)
Copyright 2022 Thomson Reuters.