LANSING, Mich. – A proposed state constitutional amendment that could protect abortion rights in Michigan has hit another roadblock on its path to November's ballot. Wednesday, a four-person board deadlocked along partisan lines on whether to send the amendment along to voters this fall.
Abortion rights supporters are expected to appeal the decision straight to the state's supreme court, but time is ticking. Any language that is slated to appear on the ballot would have to be sent to the printer by Sept. 9.
"Certainly that will be the next step, asking the Supreme Court to have the board do its job, essentially, and put this on the ballot because we have complied with the requirements," says Darci McConnell of the group Reproductive Freedom for All.
McConnell says the campaign turned in far more signatures than are required to get on the ballot. In fact, the petition broke a record in the state when more than 700,000 voters signed on.
For Michiganders who support abortion rights, the possibility of an amendment to protect abortion is important. The state has a nearly 100-year-old law that makes abortion illegal except in cases where the pregnant person's life is at risk. For now, that law is held up in litigation and is not being enforced.
But Republicans said the petitions that were circulated had typos and words that were pushed too close together to be easily understood. The proposed amendment has faced scrutiny over alleged typos in its petition language for weeks.
"Call these typos, errors, mistakes, or whatever," says Eric Doster, the attorney for Citizens to Support MI Women and Children. "This gibberish now before this board does not satisfy the full test requirement under law and this board has never approved, never approved a petition with these types of typos and errors."
The version of the petition available online at the Board of State Canvassers' website appears to show the typos, such as: "DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY."
Reproductive Freedom for All, the group behind the proposed amendment, can appeal the Wednesday decision straight to the Michigan Supreme Court where Democrats have a narrow majority.
If approved by the justices, Michigan will join other states such as California and Vermont where voters will see similar state constitutional abortion rights amendments on their ballots this November.
After voters in Kansas decided to reject a constitutional amendment that would have restricted abortion rights, Democrats across the country have renewed enthusiasm to push for abortion rights.
How an amendment could affect the rest of Nov.'s ballot
Democrats, including Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are pushing hard for an amendment in part because of how much is at stake in November. Whitmer is running for reelection against abortion rights opponent Republican Tudor Dixon, who is endorsed by former President Donald Trump. Dixon made headlines this summer after responding to a question about the hypothetical rape of a 14-year-old by a family member being a "perfect example" of why abortion should be banned.
An amendment to protect abortion rights could propel abortion rights supporters to the polls and help push Democrats to victory up and down the ballot.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
In Michigan, a proposed amendment to the state constitution to protect abortion rights has hit another roadblock. Michigan's Board of State Canvassers deadlocked today along partisan lines, meaning there's a potential it will not make it to ballots in November. Abortion rights supporters are expected to appeal to the state Supreme Court, but time is running out before ballots have to be printed.
Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network is in Lansing. Hey, Rick.
RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: Hey, Ari. How are you?
SHAPIRO: All right. What happened today?
PLUTA: Well, the Board of State Canvassers - it's this bipartisan election board - they didn't vote to approve the amendment to move it to the ballot. There was a party line deadlock. They need a majority and some level of bipartisan support, and that just didn't happen. And so this means the group behind the amendment will now go directly to the state Supreme Court, bypassing lower courts. But, you know, like you said, this needs to get done next week. Time is short.
And that's important here for Michiganders who support abortion rights because there's a law - it's almost not quite 100 years old - that would make abortion legal following the repeal of Roe v. Wade. But that's been basically held back by court decisions. And what this campaign wants to do is to make sure that there wouldn't be another court decision that would lift this. And it would just make sure that abortion rights are protected in the state constitution if voters adopt it.
SHAPIRO: Was the deadlock just purely partisan ideological disagreement? Or what was the deadlock over today?
PLUTA: OK. Well, I mean, this is supposed to be a board that deals with technical issues, but, yeah, it was a partisan deadlock. And opponents of the amendment say that the petition form that voters signed - and that was more than 700,000 people - was kind of a mess. There were some typos, there were formatting errors, in some places there were missing spaces between words so that they were all just kind of pushed together. They argue that what a lot of voters signed was, as a practical matter, just illegible. And of course, you know, the people who are for the amendment were saying, well, voters did know what they signed, and that this board shouldn't be stepping in and trying to, you know, read minds. The people signed it because they wanted it on the ballot.
SHAPIRO: How does this get resolved?
PLUTA: Well, the next step is the Michigan Supreme Court - the state's highest court. Cases like this go all the way to the top. And that's a good thing because this has to be decided very quickly. The language needs to be sent to ballot printers, and the deadline for that is September 9.
And we should point out that, you know, Michigan isn't alone in this. There are states such as California and Vermont that - they have similar state constitutional abortion rights amendments that are supposed to go before voters in November. So this is kind of a national thing.
SHAPIRO: Just briefly, is this likely to affect other items on the ballot in November, other races?
PLUTA: Oh, sure. Well, we've got statewide races for governor, attorney general, secretary of state. And now, abortion rights has catapulted to the top of this. And Democrats, including Governor Gretchen Whitmer, are really trying to push that.
SHAPIRO: That's Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network. Thank you very much.
PLUTA: Oh, thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.