This Swing State Could Rewrite Abortion Access in the Midwest

On Tuesday, Michigan voters head to the polls to decide if they’ll enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution.
Pro abortion rights supporters gather outside the Michigan State Capitol during a "Restore Roe" rally in Lansing, on September 7, 2022.
Proabortion rights supporters gather outside the Michigan State Capitol during a "Restore Roe" rally in Lansing, on September 7, 2022. (JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images)

DETROIT — More than four months after the Supreme Court shredded the federal right to an abortion, arguing that access to the procedure should be decided on a state-by-state basis, voters in Michigan are getting their chance to do just that.

On Tuesday, Michiganders will head to the polls to cast their vote on Proposition 3, a ballot measure on whether Michigan should enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. Now that the Supreme Court has stripped abortion protections from the federal Constitution, adding them to states’ constitutions is likely the best—if not only—way to preserve them for future generations.


The ballot initiative was in the works long before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June. But that decision turbocharged the race: Reproductive Freedom for All, the pro-abortion rights group behind the initiative, turned in more than 750,000 signatures in favor of getting the initiative on the ballot in July. Legally, the group was only required to net 300,000. 

Still, it was far from assured that the initiative would end up on the ballot. Abortion opponents tried to stop it by arguing there wasn't enough visible spacing between the words, and the Board of State Canvassers, which has two Republicans and two Democrats, deadlocked on whether to certify the measure. The Michigan State Supreme Court ultimately had to step in and decided that the measure should be placed on the ballot. (On Thursday, NBC News reported that one of the judges who voted against adding the initiative to the ballot allegedly helped his ex-wife get an abortion in college.)

Regardless of what happens on Tuesday, abortion will remain legal in Michigan at least for the near future. Michigan has a 1931 abortion ban still on the books, but that law has been suspended by a legal challenge, and abortion foes would need to triumph in a court to reinstate it.


However, Republicans control Michigan’s state Legislature. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has been a bulwark against their attempts to pass abortion restrictions, but she is also up for election on Tuesday. If she loses her race, Republicans will likely have a clear path to enacting more abortion restrictions, or even banning the procedure entirely. And even if Whitmer does hang onto her seat, it’s almost certain that Michigan will one day have a Republican governor—and that governor could outlaw abortions.

This summer, Kansas became the first state in the nation to vote on abortion after Roe’s overturning, as voters were asked to decide whether to strip the state constitution of abortion protections. Despite predictions that the vote would be close, abortion rights supporters absolutely crushed the other side, winning in a 59-41 landslide. That margin of victory alarmed Republicans running for office, many of whom took to downplaying their anti-abortion stances.

Tudor Dixon, the Republican running against Whitmer, didn’t. Instead, Dixon has made no secret of her belief that abortions should only be permitted to save the life of a pregnant person. In video obtained by VICE News, she suggested that any medical advice to end a pregnancy is “the devil’s lie.”


The Michigan vote will be a bellwether for abortion’s political viability in the United States, as well as determine the future of abortion access across the Midwest. After Roe fell, much of the Midwest moved to ban nearly all abortions, leaving Michigan, Illinois, and Minnesota as oases of abortion access in the region. If abortion clinics in Michigan are forced to close, abortion patients will likely have to travel even farther and pay even more for abortions—if they can get to clinics at all.

Michigan also isn’t the only state that has abortion on the ballot this midterms. In Kentucky, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to explicitly clarify that it doesn’t include the right to abortion. Most abortions are already banned in Kentucky, but a loss for the state’s abortion-rights supporters would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to ever bring the procedure back. 

Meanwhile, California and Vermont voters will decide whether to add abortion rights to their constitution. Although those measures are similar to Michigan’s, the states are far more liberal and their votes’ outcomes seem far more assured.

Finally, in Montana, voters are being asked whether healthcare providers should save infants “born alive” after attempted abortions. Although this kind of “born alive” language is common among anti-abortion activists, it obscures the nuanced reality of pregnancy. In some cases, people will give birth despite the fact that they know their fetus has a condition that renders it incompatible with life. When that happens, doctors can provide end-of-life care so that these babies may die in comfort; if the Montana referendum passes, that may no longer be possible.

It is also already a crime to kill an infant.

Abortion rights in several other states will also hinge on the results of the midterms. In North Carolina, one of the few states in the South that still offers abortion, Democrats will need to hang onto their state legislature seats in order to keep Republicans from getting a veto-proof majority. In Georgia, a win for gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams could be the first step towards rolling back that state’s six-week abortion ban—or at least preventing the state from outlawing abortion entirely.

Follow Carter Sherman on Twitter.