abortion rights protest
Abortion-rights supporters in Michigan are eager to put a ballot measure enshrining the right to an abortion before state voters in November. (Bridge file photo)

LANSING — Supporters of Michigan’s abortion rights ballot initiative have collected nearly 800,000 signatures — almost double the required number of eligible signatures — ahead of a Monday deadline to qualify for the November ballot, campaign co-chair and Ann Arbor Councilwoman Linh Song announced

This story also appeared in Bridge Michigan

Reproductive Freedom for All, a statewide campaign sponsoring a ballot proposal to enshrine abortion rights into the Michigan Constitution, must turn in at least 425,059 valid signatures by Monday to present the issue before voters in November. The group’s efforts took on urgency following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade was first leaked in May.

“(I) was relieved to hear the news that nearly 800,000 signatures had been gathered, the most in any ballot effort history in the state of Michigan,” Song said during a City Council meeting Tuesday.

“Many thanks to community members who went to great lengths to collect signatures at every public event, on their own block having these discussions with neighbors and understanding that this is truly an issue about the safety and health of women.”

If true, that would mean that 1-in-10 Michigan voters has signed onto the effort, voter registration data shows. The signatures still must be reviewed by the state Bureau of Elections and certified by the Board of State Canvassers before the measure appears on the November ballot.

Over the past months, the ballot initiative campaign has seen a boost in volunteers and signatures following the leaked release in early May of the high court’s later ruling reversing Roe, the 1973 landmark case that provided federal protection for abortion rights.

The downfall of Roe leaves it to individual states to decide the legality of abortion. Michigan is one of several states with a pre-Roe law criminalizing abortions. That 1931 statute would have returned into effect, but a state Court of Claims judge issued an injunction temporarily blocking its reimplementation.

That order is now being contested. At least two county prosecutors, in Kent and Jackson counties, have argued the injunction applies only to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office and not to local prosecutors. Nessel and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer contend the order applies to all prosecutors statewide.  

Supporters of the statewide ballot petition say the measure will remove uncertainty on abortion rights in Michigan. If approved by voters in November, it would create a constitutional amendment guaranteeing an array of reproductive rights in the state, including abortion. 

Anti-abortion groups, such as Michigan Catholic dioceses, Republicans and others, have criticized the proposed amendment as an “anything goes” proposal that goes beyond legalizing abortion in Michigan: it would, they say, allow abortions late into pregnancies and allow minors to obtain the procedure without parental consent.

On Tuesday of last week, the campaign told Bridge Michigan it had received more than $100,000 from more than 10,000 donors since Roe was struck down in late June. A total of 30,000 volunteers had been collecting signatures for the campaign, said Merissa Kovach, policy strategist with American Civil Liberties Union in Michigan.

Reproductive Freedom for All spokesperson Dana Chicklas declined to confirm Song’s estimate on the number of signatures collected, saying Wednesday the campaign will release the official count of signatures when they are submitted next Monday. 

But in a statement, Chicklas called the support “unprecedented.”

“The momentum for this ballot measure and the strength of our statewide network of volunteers is only growing,” she said. “We continue to be laser focused on collecting as many valid signatures as possible to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot and will share the official number we turn into the Michigan Secretary of State once we complete our rigorous verification process on July 11.”

Mark Brewer, an election law attorney working for the campaign who has decades of experience in ballot initiatives, did not confirm the signature count when reached by Bridge Michigan. 

If it’s accurate, he said, it would set the record for signatures collected by any Michigan ballot campaign.

“I’m not aware of any ballot proposal which has gathered anywhere near that number of signatures,” he told Bridge. “If it’s true, it’s an extraordinary accomplishment.”

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