Abortion Opponents Couldn’t Kill This Ballot Initiative Over Line ‘Spacing’

“What a sad marker of the times,” the Michigan Supreme Court chief justice wrote.

Just five weeks after Kansas stunned the nation by voting in overwhelming numbers to preserve abortion rights in the state, voters in Michigan will also have a chance to decide the future of abortion.

On Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to add an initiative to the ballot in November that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Supporters of abortion rights had gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures in support of adding the initiative, especially after the overturning of Roe v. Wade earlier this summer turbocharged the national debate over abortion. 


The Michigan Supreme Court order came down just days after the Board of State Canvassers—which has two Republicans and two Democrats—had deadlocked on whether to certify the initiative, which meant it wouldn’t appear on the ballot. Opponents argued that the language of the initiative didn’t have enough visible spacing between words on the petitions shown to signers. 

In its order Thursday, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the Board has “a clear legal duty to certify the petition.”

“The meaning of the words has not changed by the alleged insufficient spacing between them,” the court wrote.

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack noted that more people had signed in support of the ballot initiative than ever before in Michigan’s history.

“The challengers have not produced a single signer who claims to have been confused by the limited-spacing sections in the full text portion of the proposal. Yet two members of the Board of State Canvassers would prevent the people of Michigan from voting on the proposal because they believe that the decreased spacing makes the text no longer ‘[t]he full text,’” McCormack wrote. “They would disenfranchise millions of Michiganders not because they believe the many thousands of Michiganders who signed the proposal were confused by it, but because they think they have identified a technicality that allows them to do so, a game of gotcha gone very bad.”

“What a sad marker of the times,” McCormack added.

Michigan is one of several states where abortion will, either literally or effectively, be on the ballot. California and Vermont are also set to vote on whether to cement abortion rights into their state constitution, while Kentucky will vote on whether to clarify that its state constitution does not protect abortion. In numerous other states, Democrats need to hold onto or gain seats in order to prevent Republicans from limiting access to abortion.

Regardless of the outcome of the elections, abortion currently remains protected in Michigan. On Wednesday, a judge struck down a state 1931 law that banned most abortions by ruling that it violated the state constitution’s principles.

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Michigan, ballot initiative, abortion, Michigan Supreme Court, roe v. wade

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