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Judge Strikes Down 1931 Michigan Law Criminalizing Abortion

September 8, 2022by Ed White, Associated Press
Abortion rights protesters attend a rally outside the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., on June 24, 2022, following the United States Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

DETROIT (AP) — A judge on Wednesday struck down Michigan’s 1931 anti-abortion law, months after suspending it, the latest development over abortion rights in a state where the issue is being argued in courtrooms and, possibly, at the ballot box.

The law, which was long dormant before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, violates the Michigan Constitution, said Judge Elizabeth Gleicher.

“A law denying safe, routine medical care not only denies women of their ability to control their bodies and their lives — it denies them of their dignity,” Gleicher of the Court of Claims wrote. “Michigan’s Constitution forbids this violation of due process.”

The decision comes as the Michigan Supreme Court is considering whether to place a proposed amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot that would add abortion rights to the state constitution. A Friday deadline is looming.

Supporters submitted more than 700,000 signatures, easily clearing the threshold. But a tie vote by the Board of State Canvassers over spacing issues on the petition has kept it off the ballot so far.

In the case handled by Gleicher, the 1931 law makes it a crime to perform an abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger.

The judge said the law “compels motherhood” and prevents a woman from determining the “shape of her present and future life.”

The law “forces a pregnant woman to forgo her reproductive choices and to instead serve as `an involuntary vessel entitled to no more respect than other forms of collectively owned property,’” Gleicher wrote, quoting constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe.

The law was suspended in May with an injunction, following a lawsuit by Planned Parenthood of Michigan. Gleicher said her latest decision applies to all state and local prosecutors. An appeal by the Republican-controlled Legislature is possible.

“The House is reviewing the ruling,” spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said.

Gleicher acknowledged in July that she has been a regular donor to Planned Parenthood and gave $1,000 to the 2018 campaigns of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, both Democrats who support abortion rights.

But that support wasn’t a reason to pass the case to another judge, said Gleicher, who also serves as chief judge on the Michigan Court of Appeals.

“Judges are presumed to be unbiased and impartial,” she said.

In a separate lawsuit, Whitmer has repeatedly asked the state Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and settle the status of the 1931 law. The court hasn’t decided whether to intervene.

“With our rights still hanging by a thread, the Michigan Supreme Court needs to provide certainty,” the governor said Wednesday.

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