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Abortion in Michigan

2006: Michigan Constitutional Amendment fails

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Sponsored link.

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The petition:

Michigan Citizens for Life (MCfL) circulated  a petition between 2006-JUN-18 and JUL-10. It has variously been called the "Citizens for Life" and the "Pre-Natal Initiative" petition. It would have severely restrict all abortions in the state by adding two sections to the Michigan Constitution, to be called the "Personhood Amendment:"

bullet"The right to due process, whereby no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, guaranteed in Article 1, Section 17, and the right to equal protection of the law, guaranteed in Article 1, Section 2, vest at conception."

bullet"A 'person', for purposes of the Constitution and laws of the State of Michigan, exists from the moment of conception." 1

The public would have voted on these amendments during the 2006-NOV-07 election, if 317,757 or more valid signatures had been gathered by 2006-JUL-10.

If passed, the amendment would not have immediately ban abortions in the state, because it would have conflicted with the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. Everyone recognizes this fact. However, the main purpose of the amendment is not to restrict abortions; it is to trigger an inevitable lawsuit about abortion access that Michigan Citizens for Life hope will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in their favor.

During the year 2004, 26,269 abortions were performed in Michigan. This dropped to 25,209 in 2005, the lowest level since detailed records were started about three decades earlier. According to the South Bend Tribune:

The abortion rate -- the number of abortions per 1,000 women between the ages of 15 to 44 -- was 11.9 last year. That equals the previous low rate recorded in 1999. 9

If one defines pregnancy as starting at conception, the actual total would be much larger, because of the the use of:

bulletEmergency contraception (EC), and
bulletIntra-uterine devices (IUDs).

Contrary to many statements by religious and social conservatives, EC prevents conception by delaying ovulation or directly inhibiting fertilization of the ovum. If an ovum has been fertilized, EC has no effect. They cannot prevent implantation of the zybote in the inside wall of the uterus.

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Existing Michigan anti-abortion law:

Some pro-life advocates suggested that a constitutional amendment is not needed, because Michigan already has a 1931 law prohibiting abortions which would automatically come into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturned its 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade.

The law, referred to as the Michigan abortion statute (M.C.L. 75-14) criminalizes the act of:

"[a]ny person who shall willfully administer to any pregnant woman and medicine, drug, substance or thing whatever, or shall employ any instrument or other means whatever, with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of any such woman, unless the same shall have been necessary to preserve the life of such woman." 3

In 1972, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the abortion statute could not be used to prosecute a physician:

"...for the mere act of artificially inducing a miscarriage of an unquickened fetus....the Legislature did not view the induced abortion of an unquickened fetus as being the destruction of a human life...a licensed physician who performs a therapeutic abortion upon a woman who is in her first trimester of pregnancy, if such operation takes place in a hospital, is not subject to prosecution..." 6

In a footnote, the court wrote that:

"If a licensed physician, who performs a therapeutic abortion in a licensed hospital upon a woman who is beyond her first trimester of pregnancy but before the fetus has quickened can show that said operation involved no significant increase in danger over an operation performed during the first trimester, he [sic] too would not be subject to the application of the statute. By the same token, if the abortion is performed in a clinical setting which provided the same standard of care as a hospital and involved no significant increase in danger over a hospital operation, the doctor performing the abortion would not be subject to the statute." 6

Quickening occurs when the pregnant woman first feels fetal movements. This usually happens in the fourth or fifth month of gestation. About 90% of all abortions in the U.S. are performed during the first three months of pregnancy.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the (in)famous Roe v. Wade case that women had legal access to abortion for any reason during the first trimester, and restricted access later in gestation.

Following the Roe v. Wade ruling, the Michigan Supreme Court found a defendant guilty. He had performed an abortion even though he was an unlicensed physician. The court noted that the "...central purpose of [Michigan abortion statute] is clear enough -- to prohibit all abortions except those required to preserve the health of the mother." However, because of public policy changes and the Roe v. Wade decision:

"....we construe [the abortion statute] to mean that the prohibition of this section shall not apply to 'miscarriages' authorized by a pregnant woman's attending physician in the exercise of his medical judgment; the effectuation of the decision to abort is also left to the physician's judgment' however, a physician may not cause a miscarriage after viability except where necessary, in his [sic] medical judgment to preserve the health of the mother." 6

One might argue that, if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in the future, that Michigan's abortion statute would become effective and would permit about 90% of the abortions currently being performed by physicians -- those which are carried out before the end of the first trimester.

The Thomas More Law Center suggests that:

"...should the United States Supreme Court eventually overturn Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, all things being equal, the legal status of abortion in Michigan will be far from clear.

On the other hand, the attorneys of Right to Life's have advised the group that the law would make abortion illegal in Michigan should the Supreme Court reverse Roe v. Wade. Thus, a new law is unnecessary.

There is an interesting aspect of the statute that we have never seen discussed. It allows abortions before quickening. But quickening is a subjective experience of the woman. If, say during the fifth month of pregnancy, she seeks an abortion and maintains that she has never felt the fetus move, how could her physician be convicted of performing an abortion after quickening? This might extend the interval of allowable abortions to the end of the second trimester. Currently, 99% of all abortions are performed before this time.

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Appeal to Michigan clergy:

On 2006-JAN-30, Carl Zastrow, Chairperson of Michigan Citizens for Life, wrote an open letter to all clergy in Michigan. It is based on the belief that human personhood begins at conception. It said, in part:

"After thirty-three years, after over forty-five million murdered babies [nationally], it is way past time to stop the killing. Can you imagine the Americans coming up to the Dachau death camp in 1945 and trying to regulate it? You do not 'regulate' the murdering of innocent people, whether it be by gas chambers, machine guns, or surgical suction machines. You shut them down! Any 'law' that recognizes the 'right' of a mother to murder her son or daughter is immoral. Any 'law' that allows a mother to murder her baby after she does A, B, or C, is not good enough!..."

"We praise God for educational and mercy ministries like 'post-abortion' counseling and pregnancy resource centers. We praise God for the peaceful Rescue movement and street ministries. We praise God for shepherds who compassionately bring wounded sheep to the Savior for repentance, forgiveness, and healing. A truly compassionate shepherd not only patches up ravaged sheep, but he protects sheep from the wolves in the first place. Yes! He takes his staff and beats the wolves to jelly! The demonic spirit of murder is like a wolf that kills almost one-third of American children. Shepherds, it is time for us to arise together and peacefully stop the slaughtering, to prevent the wolves from killing the lambs! Being pro-life doesn't save any babies - acting pro-life does...."

"PRAY against the spirit of murder. Pray against the lies that call murder, a  'choice,' or 'a surgical procedure,' and 'removal of pregnancy tissue.' Pray against the apathy that allows over 4,000 children each day to be slaughtered [in the U.S.]." 2

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Activities of the Thomas More Law Center

The Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, MI, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group,  geared up to handle the inevitable court battles that this amendment would have triggered, if it were implemented. 3

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Reactions to the petition:

bulletRepublican State Committee: The Michigan Republican State Committee unanimously passed a resolution supporting the Michigan Citizens for Life petition drive. It said:
"In conjunction with the Republican National Committee Platform passed in 2004, the Michigan Republican Party expresses support for the concept that life [of a human person] begins at conception and we encourage our members to consider supporting the Michigan Citizens for Life petition initiative." 4
Cal Zastrow, chairperson of MCfL said on 2006-APR-12 that the resolution has helped the petition drive. He said: "It has tremendous impact. The Republican Party is staying true to its platform." 4
bulletTroy-Clawson Republican Forum: The forum supports the petition. Treasurer Eileen Kruper stated:

"From the moment of conception, the tiny human is a self-contained unit, needing only shelter, food and  oxygen to continue developing, just like all the rest of  humanity. T.C.R.F. supports this petition drive because we need to finally recognize this scientific fact and protect the most innocent  among us -- the child in the womb." 5

bulletDemocrats: The Michigan Democratic Party criticized the GOP resolution and the petition, noting that women who have abortions even in cases of rape or to protect their own lives would become criminals. Mark Brewer, state chairperson of the Democratic Party said that the resolution moves the state Republican Party "even farther out of the Michigan mainstream." 4
bulletAmerican Civil Liberties Union: The ACLU has stated that it will file a lawsuit to block the amendment if voters pass it. 4
bulletOther anti-abortion groups:
bulletRight to Life of Michigan is perhaps the best known group that is opposed to abortion access in the state. They believe that the amendment is technically flawed, and that it is unneeded because Michigan already has a law in place that would ban abortions in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade in the future. 4 The Detroit News noted that:

"...the traditional heavyweights of the anti-abortion core in this state -- Right to Life of Michigan and the Michigan Catholic Conference -- are officially sitting this one out. And some say the two are working against it, behind the scenes.

" 'It's never healthy for the movement when pro-life groups divide over anything,' said Judie Brown, president of American Life League, a national anti-abortion organization headquartered in Washington, DC. Brown supports the Michigan ballot issue. 8

Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan noted that the constitutional amendment is silent on issues such as in-vitro fertilization, abortions to save the mother's life, and cloning. That leaves it open to legal entanglements, she said. 8 It also would appear to criminalize emergency contraception.

bulletMichigan Catholic Conference: Paul Long, the group's vice president for public policy, said:

"The Catholic Church stands by its belief that life begins at conception. And while that is the teaching of the church, there is a difference between that and whether this petition drive as written and put forward is the right and proper thing to do at this time."

bulletThe public: A EPIC/MRA public opinion poll in early 2006-JUN showed that 47% favored the amendment; 42% are opposed. 8

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Petition failed:

Michigan Citizens for Life allegedly collected fewer than 300,000 signatures, compared to the 317,757 needed to place the constitutional amendment on the 2006-NOV ballot. Their leader, Cal Zastrow, planned to continue its effort, perhaps initiating a new petition in the future, or persuading the Legislature to sponsor the constitutional amendment. The latter would require a two-thirds affirmative vote by both the House and Senate. 9

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletAnti-abortion bills in various states
bulletLaws restricting abortion in the U.S. and Canada
bulletRoe v. Wade: Its basis; court philosophies; political aspects
bulletThe future battle over women's access to abortion; The impact if Roe v. Wade is overturned

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Petition Language," Michigan Citizens for Life, at: http://www.michigancitizensforlife.net/
  2. "An open letter to Christian shepherds." Michigan Citizens for Life, at: http://www.michigancitizensforlife.net/
  3. "Memorandum of Law," Thomas More Law Center, 2006-MAY-03, at: http://www.michigancitizensforlife.net/
  4. Tim Martin, "Anti-abortion petition drive supported by GOP committee," The Associated Press, 2006-APR-12, at: http://www.michigancitizensforlife.net/
  5. News release, Troy-Clawson Republican Forum, 2006-JUN-13, at: http://www.michigancitizensforlife.net/
  6. "People v. Nixon," 42 Mich App. 332 (1972).
  7. "People v. Bricker," 389 Mich. 534 (1973).
  8. Mark Hornbeck, "Abortion foes split over ballot," Detroit News, 2006-MAY-30, at: http://detroitnews.com/
  9. "Anti-abortion petition falls short in Michigan. Group wanted to get enough signatures to put issue on ballot," South Bend Tribune, 2006-JUL-11, at: http://www.southbendtribune.com/

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 Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Legal aspects > here

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Copyright © 2006 & 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2006-JUN-18
Latest update: 2007-DEC-05
Author: B.A. Robinson

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