State Supreme Court will likely decide if Michigan abortion rights proposal will be on November ballot

By Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance

It’s not certain whether the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal will get in front of voters in November after the Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on party lines Wednesday. 

The board also deadlocked Wednesday on whether an initiative to expand voting rights will end up on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. Both matters are now expected to be resolved in the Michigan Supreme Court.

The Reproductive Freedom for All (RFFA) coalition, which aims to amend the state Constitution to ensure Michiganders’ right to make and carry out decisions relating to pregnancy, including abortion, birth control, prenatal care and childbirth, submitted more than the required number of valid signatures. 

The right to abortion is no longer federally guaranteed, as the U.S. Supreme Court in June overturned the landmark case, Roe v. Wade. Michigan currently has a 1931 law criminalizing abortion on the books, but it is currently on hold as two cases wind through the courts.

The Bureau of Elections recommended Thursday that the Board of State Canvassers certify the proposal. 

However, opponents of the measure challenged it for a spacing issue between some words in the petition, as the Advance previously reported, which Republicans on the board found persuasive. 

However, RFFA attorney Steve Liedel argued that it was a minor issue, not a disqualification.

“There’s no typo here. There is no misplaced or misspelled word. There is a spacing issue, as attested under oath to this Board by the person who produced it,” said Liedel. “And so the only question is, do you possess this statutory authority to disapprove this petition on a form requirement that is not addressed in any way under the Michigan Election Law, that being the spacing? If you do this, you are setting a precedent that you can disapprove petitions for made up reasons without any basis in the statute.”

According to Section 168.482 of Michigan’s election code: The heading of each part of the petition must be printed in capital letters in 14-point boldface type; the 100-word summary must be printed in 12-point type; and the full text of the proposed amendment must be printed in 8-point type.

RFFA submitted more than 730,000 signatures, a record number, to get on the ballot, but Citizens Supporting Michigan Women and Children attorney argued that despite the large turnout of support, the spacing issue is “an egregious error of the form” and the proposal should be rejected.

Board members again split on the decision to certify the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal, with Democrats Mary Gurewitz and Jeanette Bradshaw voting to put the question on the ballot and the two Republicans, Richard Houskamp and Tony Daunt, voting against.

The coalition tweeted that it will be taking the issue up in court to decide if the proposal should be on the November ballot. 

The Michigan Republican Party celebrated the deadlock in a statement Wednesday, stating that “the extreme initiative doesn’t belong on the ballot” and inaccurately stating that the proposed constitutional amendment would automatically repeal current laws like parental consent and health and safety requirements. 

That confusion is part of the reason the RFFA campaign requested to eliminate the part of the summary that says the amendment will “invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.” Liedel stated that that is inaccurate.

The Secretary of State has a deadline to certify general election ballots for county clerks at 5 p.m. Sept. 9.

The Board did vote unanimously to approve a summary for the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal, that was discussed and agreed upon from both sides, in case the Supreme Court rules in favor of the proposal getting on the ballot.

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