Michigan’s referendum becomes a tense and expensive abortion battleground
If passed, state would be first to overturn anti-abortion law since Supreme Court Roe v. Wade in June. A yes vote would also reinforce the belief of abortion rights advocates that voting initiatives are their most viable way to restore access in Republican-controlled states. Following August’s decisive victory for the Kansas abortion rights side, it would likely fuel efforts to put the issue on the ballot in several other states in 2023 and 2024.
However, the failed Michigan amendment would support the arguments of anti-abortion proponents that Kansas was a fluke, fueled by confusion and misinformation, and that Republican attempts to portray Democrats as extremists who have no restrictions on wanting an abortion is an effective campaign tactic.
The contest has pushed abortion to the fore in races up and down the swing state vote, with Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and a host of state house and senate candidates posing as the last line of defense for reproductive freedom, regardless of the outcome of the referendum.
“I’m fighting for everyone’s right to make the decision they want about their own bodies,” Whitmer told POLITICO. “A governor absolutely influences the right to choose.”
Whitmer’s GOP opponent Tudor Dixon is against abortion except to save the parent’s life. But as each party tries to convince moderate Republican voters, they are mad at… roe because she is being destroyed, she has argued that the ballot measure gives them a chance to both retain entry and vote for a Republican.
Dixon told POLITICO after Thursday’s gubernatorial debate in Grand Rapids that the voting initiative and its race are “two separate issues,” adding that “a judge has already decided this.”
“The governor is trying to have an abortion because her track record is so bad,” she added.
In the final sprint to Election Day, both sides are pouring money into TV ads, mailings, phone banking and recruiting staff and thousands of volunteers to knock on doors across the state.
The campaigns get their message across in churches, on college campuses, at local chambers of commerce and in union halls, with each side painting a bleak picture of what could happen in the state if they lose.
“Michigan could become Texas,” warned Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood of Michigan and a co-leader of the Reproductive Freedom For All voting campaign. “Michigan voters have a chance to make sure we don’t become one of those other states where they could potentially be criminalized for accessing the basic health care they’ve had access to for the past 50 years.”
The anti-abortion rights groups argue that Proposition 3 goes far beyond overthrowing the 1931 law or codification Roe. In TV and radio ads, and when they go door-to-door, they say the initiative would eliminate all state restrictions and regulations on abortion — an argument Democratic officials and some law professors in state dispute. Mainly, proponents of anti-abortion claim passing the amendment would do away with the state’s existing parental consent requirement, an argument they believe could take away support even from Democrats.
“What I hear when I’m recruiting is that voters may support abortion, but they don’t want to go that far,” said Christen Pollo, the spokesperson for Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children, which leads the fight. to beat the referendum.
Nessel insists this is misinformation.
“I absolutely reject that premise,” she told POLITICO. “I mean, you can’t vote until you’re 18. And while there is a Second Amendment right to gun ownership, let’s not let kids buy firearms. We have so many rights that we consider sacred, but that doesn’t mean we can’t put limits on those rights when it comes to one’s age.”
The abortion rights camp gained a significant lead in raising funds, raising more than $8 million before the amendment passed, according to disclosures filed with the Secretary of State’s office. This pull, fueled by large donations from national organizations such as the ACLU, NARAL, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood, has allowed their campaign to run ads in every media market in the state, Reproductive Freedom For All told POLITICO.
Anti-abortion proponents told POLITICO earlier this summer that they were hesitant to campaign seriously before making sure the amendment would come to the vote — which didn’t happen until the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in September.
By July, the anti-amendment side had raised about $300,000, largely from anti-abortion advocacy groups and faith-based groups — primarily the Catholic Church, according to the most recent campaign finance report submitted to the Secretary of State. Recent TV ad purchases indicate an increase in their fundraising, with the campaign spending more than $4 million on commercials in September and October, according to AdImpact, a media tracking company. Lots of conservative and religious groups in the state also spend independently in the race and cut their own ads persuading people to vote no.
With the early voting already underway, each party is also knocking on doors to get their message across in person and remind voters of what’s at stake.
When members of the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign campaigned last week in a suburb of Lansing, awash in fall colors, they urged residents to pass the amendment to ensure “we don’t go back 50 years.” in the field of women’s rights. They warned that without it, doctors could be sued for decisions they make when faced with “serious medical complications that occur during pregnancy,” people can report. their neighbors and relatives, and residents might have to travel across state or country borders for the procedure. Passing the amendment, they argued, “takes us back to where we were on June 24” — the day the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade.
Most voters who opened the door seemed receptive.
Anthony Patino, a Lansing resident who works for a pharmaceutical company, told POLITICO he is upset by the Catholic Church’s support of the anti-amendment campaign, arguing that they have “lost their way”.
“People should be able to decide for themselves. That’s why God has given us free will,” he said, stepping out onto his porch, the television playing in the background. “I can’t believe my own religion can’t understand that. They want to control the rest of us. But not all Catholics and not all religious people feel that way.”
The next afternoon, an hour away in Wyoming, just south of Grand Rapids, volunteers from Students for Life, a national anti-abortion group that opposed the amendment, handed out leaflets in the pouring rain.
“Our message is that Proposal 3 is out of reach,” said Titus Folks, an organizer for the Indiana-based Students for Life group that has led teams of student volunteers to knock on doors in Michigan — part of the group’s national plan to to knock on. at 250,000 doors in 33 states prior to the midterms. “Even people who are pro-choice believe there has to be a limit somewhere, and they prefer to see the… [1931 law] changed incrementally over time than this drastic shift with the change.”
Still, opinion on the referendum in the purple-but-trending-blue part of the state was divided.
While some enthusiastically agreed with Folks’ argument that the proposed amendment goes too far in lifting restrictions on abortion, others took a look at his shirt that read “The pro-life generation vote” and slammed the door. .
“I’m concerned about eliminating any abortion, especially if the mother is going to die or the child is going to die — I disagree,” said Kristy Bachert, who told Folks she remains undecided. “There are circumstances where it should be allowed.”
With recent polls showing more than 60 percent support for the amendment, Folks and other anti-abortion proponents lamented that Dixon, the state’s top GOP nominee, is not using her platform to beat it.
“It’s frustrating,” Folkers says. “A lot of [Republicans] are silent. But I understand the strategic decision, and we can’t control it. And if they’re afraid of the issue, I’d rather they shut up than try to throw us under the bus.”
Democrats like Nessel, meanwhile, have made abortion a top issue in their races — claiming their election is still important in ensuring the procedure remains legal even if the amendment is passed, and a crucial safety net if it fails.
“Just because you codified our state constitution to include these rights — the battle is not over,” Nessel told POLITICO. “Even if we assume it succeeds, there will be legal challenges. And it’s up to the Attorney General’s office to defend the law.”
A group of seven district attorneys – collectively representing most areas where abortion clinics operate – has promised not to enforce the Act of 1931 allowed a higher court to enact it. But Eli Savit, the Washtenaw County District Attorney whose jurisdiction includes Ann Arbor, stressed that these promises aren’t enough to reassure abortion providers in the state that they can practice.
“I call it a ‘belt and suspenders and Velcro’ approach, to make sure this 1931 law doesn’t come back to life,” Savit said. “But everyone involved in this is aware that the litigation measures and the prosecutor’s discretion – we promise not to prosecute abortion – are just plasters. Even if our side eventually prevails in lawsuits, we have seen in other states and at the federal level that a change in court membership can result in a rapid regression to reproductive freedom.”
Supporters of the ballot amendment say that in the midst of this multifaceted strategy, it is their most powerful weapon.
“We’re focusing on proposal 3 because it’s a sustainable approach,” says Wells Stallworth. “There is no appeal. It is not subject to whoever sits on the bench at the Michigan Supreme Court. It is not subject to who is governor or who sits in the legislature.”