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Michigan activists submit signatures to put abortion rights on the ballot in November

Voters in Michigan are one step closer to deciding whether abortion remains legal in the swing state.

Abortion-rights activists who spent months gathering hundreds of thousands of signatures to put an abortion rights amendment on the November ballot brought well more than the amount required to the Secretary of State’s office on Monday, and say they’re confident the petition will be swiftly certified.

“We’ve been putting every single signature through a rigorous verification process,” said Jessica Ayoub, the field director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which is co-leading the effort. “This has been an incredible showing of direct democracy at work.”

If voters back the Reproductive Freedom for All amendment, it would insert permanent protections into Michigan’s constitution not only for abortion but also for other reproductive health services including miscarriage management, birth control, prenatal care and in-vitro fertilization. It would also stop the state’s 1931 abortion ban from going back into effect should state courts uphold it in two pending cases. The ban remains blocked by a lower court’s preliminary injunction.

While just over 425,000 signatures of registered Michigan voters are required to qualify for the ballot, Planned Parenthood, ACLU and the other groups behind the campaign submitted more than 753,759, and say they gathered them from every one of the state’s 83 counties.

Renee Chelian, a leader in the ballot initiative campaign who runs a network of abortion clinics and talked to POLITICO in June about her own pre-Roe illegal abortion, called Monday’s signature submission “a major step forward to restore the freedoms and protections of Roe v. Wade.”

The measure, she said, would “place the right to make a private decision about pregnancy, and about when to bring new life into the world, back into the hands of pregnant people, not politicians.”

Progressive activists in Michigan had been planning a ballot initiative for years as they anticipated the crumbling of protections at the federal level. They officially kicked off at the beginning of 2022 — after oral arguments at the Supreme Court convinced many the fall of Roe v. Wade was imminent. While the signature gathering started off slow, interest skyrocketed and tens of thousands volunteered after POLITICO published the draft opinion overturning Roe at the beginning of May. When the ruling came down at the end of June, they kicked into an even higher gear — blanketing the state to collect signatures at Pride parades, farmers markets, libraries, outdoor concerts, agricultural festivals and block parties.

“We got 30,000 new volunteers after the leak,” Ayoub said. “But in the week-plus since the decision, that’s doubled to over 60,000. We have never seen anything like this before. And as signature collection winds down they’re already itching to talk to voters and get this passed.”

If the amendment is certified for the ballot, abortion-rights advocates and anti-abortion groups expect a tough and expensive fight. Both sides say they will be phone-banking, door-knocking, running ads, holding rallies and mobilizing community groups in the leadup to November — when the state’s Democratic governor and attorney general are also up for reelection.

“We will launch our massive campaign after the signatures are certified but we’re doing as much as we can right now. We don’t want to sit around and wait and miss time to get the word out,” said Anna-Marie Visser, the communications director of Right to Life of Michigan. “We want to educate the public and let them know that even if you are pro-choice you shouldn’t want this in the state constitution.”