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Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer strikes 1931 abortion ban from Michigan law

The abortion ban, which fueled one of the largest ballot drives in state history, had been unenforceable after voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution last November

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer addresses supporters before signing legislation to repeal the 1931 abortion ban statute, on April 5, 2023, in Birmingham, Michigan.Carlos Osorio (AP)

A near-century old abortion ban that fueled one of the largest ballot drives in Michigan history was repealed Wednesday by Governor Gretchen Whitmer, just months after voters enshrined abortion rights in the state’s constitution. “Today, we’re going to take action to make sure that our statutes and our laws reflect our values and our constitution,” Whitmer said at a bill signing outside of Detroit.

The 1931 abortion ban, which made it a four-year felony to assist in an abortion, had long been dormant before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

Courts blocked the ban from taking effect while a citizen-led initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state’s constitution received more signatures than any other ballot proposal in state history. Voters overwhelmingly approved the proposal in last November’s midterms, making the 1931 law unconstitutional and unenforceable.

The 1931 ban could have been enforced in the future had voters collected enough signatures to once again amend the state constitution and repeal abortion rights. Whitmer’s signature Wednesday eliminated that possibility, erasing the law completely.

“We cannot allow archaic laws to remain on our books under the assumption that they’ll never be used again,” said Democratic state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky. “We don’t know what the future will hold and we don’t know what plans abortion opponents have.”

Last month, the Michigan House and Senate — each with a two-seat Democratic majority — voted to send a repeal of the abortion ban to the governor. A majority of Republicans opposed the bill, speaking out ahead of the vote on the legality of abortion as a whole.

Pohutsky, who sponsored the legislation repealing the law, said at the event Wednesday that “this is far from the end of the story,” and that the Democratic-controlled Statehouse will continue expanding access to reproductive health care.

Wednesday’s signing marked another victory for abortion rights supporters in Michigan, who joined California and Vermont last November in enshrining abortion rights in their state’s constitution. Kentucky, a reliably red state, rejected a ballot measure aimed at denying any state constitutional protections for abortion.

Voters in Wisconsin elected a Democratic-backed Milwaukee judge Tuesday to the state’s Supreme Court, ensuring liberals will take over majority control of the court with the fate of the state’s abortion ban on the line.

“Who would have thought two years ago, three years ago, five years ago, that we would be as Democrats looking to Michigan, Kansas, Wisconsin, Montana and Kentucky to be on the frontline of protecting reproductive freedom for women across this country,” said Laphonza Butler, the president of EMILYs List.

Whitmer joined other speakers at the event in Birmingham in calling out Republican-led states for restricting abortion rights, saying laws in Texas and South Carolina were “un-American, anti-free and, frankly, sickening.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has pushed for a six-week ban in his state, is scheduled to appear in Michigan on Thursday to speak at a Midland County GOP event before heading to southern Michigan to speak at Hillsdale College.

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