The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Michigan Republicans block abortion referendum, setting up showdown

Members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers, from left, Republicans Richard Houskamp and Anthony Daunt and Democrats Mary Ellen Gurewitz and Jeannette Bradshaw, listen to attorneys Olivia Flower and Steve Liedel during a hearing in Lansing on Aug. 31. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

Michigan’s elections board on Wednesday rejected a voter initiative for the November ballot that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, a move that sets the stage for a legal showdown at the state Supreme Court.

The four-member Board of State Canvassers deadlocked along partisan lines with two of the Republican members declining to certify the measure, which requires three votes.

Abortion currently remains legal in Michigan, a perennial swing state, following a flurry of legal back-and-forth in the aftermath of the June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Michigan Reproductive Freedom for All (RFFA) campaign, which gathered signatures for the ballot measure, said it will appeal the board’s vote.

“RFFA is heading to the Michigan Supreme Court to ask that the Board of State Canvassers do their jobs. The State Bureau of Elections recommended the board certify our signatures, noting it had no standing to act on the language,” the group said in a statement posted to Twitter on Wednesday.

Democrats seek edge with women as Michigan prepares to vote on abortion

The campaign accused the board of disenfranchising Michigan voters “who want to restore Roe and keep in place the reproductive rights we’ve had in Michigan for the last 50 years.”

The board’s chairman, Anthony Daunt (R), took issue with the readability of the proposal and rejected it based on spacing issues, the Detroit News reports.

“If what was circulated had come to us for review, it would not have been approved” because of defects in spacing, Daunt said.

Board Vice Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz (D) disagreed and argued that if so many people signed the proposal in the signature-gathering phase, the language must have been legible.

“We simply have no authority to reject this petition based upon challenges to the content of the petition,” Gurewitz said.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) and activists explain Proposal 3, a midterm ballot measure which would enshrine abortion rights in the state's constitution. (Video: Hannah Jewell, Lindsey Sitz, Ross Godwin/The Washington Post, Photo: Emily Elconin/The Washington Post)

Since Roe was overturned in June, Michigan has emerged as the most hotly contested battleground for abortion rights.

A state law from 1931 that makes abortion a felony was superseded by Roe but never removed from the books. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) has waged a fierce battle to protect abortion rights and prevent the nearly century-old law from taking effect.

An Oakland County judge granted an injunction on Aug. 19 to block the 1931 law from taking effect, pending either the November ballot referendum or the outcome of a lawsuit by Whitmer, who petitioned the Michigan Supreme Court to protect abortion rights in the state constitution.

Ballot referendum on abortion are expected to be a boon for Democrats in November, with many Republican candidates and strategists taking notice after reliably red voters in Kansas this month overwhelmingly rejected an amendment that would strip abortion rights from the state constitution.

The fate of abortion access in Michigan also has implications for those in surrounding states: In the Upper Midwest, only Illinois and Minnesota have protected the right to an abortion; both have reported an influx of patients seeking care after “trigger laws” in surrounding states took effect after Roe.