Whitmer repeals Michigan's 1931 abortion ban

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With the stroke of her pen, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer repealed an unenforceable Michigan law Wednesday that makes it a felony to administer most abortions with no exception for rape or incest.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signs legislation to repeal the 1931 abortion ban statute, which criminalized abortion in nearly all cases during a bill signing ceremony, Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Birmingham, Mich. The abortion ban, which fueled one of the largest ballot drives in state history, had been unenforceable after voters enshrined abortion rights in the state constitution last November. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

For decades, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision guaranteed a national constitutional right to abortion. But when the court overturned that decision, a Michigan Court of Claims judge issued an order temporarily blocking Michigan's abortion ban to ensure continued legal access to the procedure in the state. Michigan voters ultimately took up the matter directly during last year's midterm when they embraced an amendment to the state's constitution to enshrine an explicit right to seek abortions.

While the constitutional amendment means the 1931 abortion ban is no longer in effect, Democratic lawmakers still wanted to repeal it.

"Today, we're going to take action to ensure that our statutes, our laws reflect our values and our constitution," Whitmer said in front of a wall of pink signs reading "bans off our bodies" at a bill signing ceremony packed with Democrats and abortion rights advocates.

"This is a long overdue step," she said.

House Bill 4006 repeals two Michigan laws: one that makes it a felony to administer an abortion to a pregnant woman unless "necessary to preserve the life of such woman" and another that makes it a misdemeanor to sell or advertise medication for an abortion. It passed with the support of every Democratic lawmaker and two Republicans in the state House: state Reps. Thomas Kuhn, of Troy, and Donni Steele, of Orion Township. Most Republicans voted against it, and Right to Life of Michigan derided Whitmer in a statement for celebrating the repeal of the state's abortion ban.

More: Michigan House repeals 1931 abortion ban following passage of Proposal 3

More: Michigan Supreme Court ends abortion lawsuit at Gov. Whitmer's request

Nicole Wells Stallworth, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, celebrated the bill signing. Just a year ago, she said she feared for the future of abortion access in the state in anticipation of a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe.

Nicole Wells Stallworth, Executive Director, Planned Parenthood is seen before Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation to repeal the 1931 abortion ban statute, which criminalized abortion in nearly all cases during a bill signing ceremony, Wednesday, April 5, 2023, in Birmingham, Mich. Michigan had an unconstitutional law from 1931 on the books banning abortion without exceptions for rape or incest and allowing doctors and nurses who offer reproductive care to be prosecuted.

"And now, abortion providers will no longer have to fear that they will be criminalized for doing their jobs," she said.

Whitmer also signed House Bill 4032 removing abortion-related felonies from the state's criminal code which under the state's abortion ban dictates up to four years' imprisonment for those who administer an abortion and 15 years' imprisonment in the case of an abortion that results in death. Meanwhile, Senate Bill 2 signed by Whitmer repeals a 1931 law that makes it a misdemeanor to publish or sell pamphlets or books with "recipes or prescriptions for drops, pills, tinctures, or other compounds" for contraception and abortions.

"I am about to slay three zombies with one pen," Whitmer said before signing the three bills.

Whitmer made protecting abortion access a key pillar of her reelection campaign against Republican Tudor Dixon, a staunch opponent of abortion rights.

Before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe, Whitmer used her gubernatorial powers to ask the Michigan Supreme Court to declare the 1931 law criminalizing abortion violated the Michigan Constitution. The court formally dismissed Whitmer's lawsuit after voters approved the reproductive rights amendment championed by Whitmer. That proposal obtained over 50,000 more votes than Whitmer received in the 2022 election.

Clara Hendrickson fact-checks Michigan issues and politics as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Make a tax-deductible contribution to support her work at bit.ly/freepRFA. Contact her at chendrickson@freepress.com or 313-296-5743. Follow her on Twitter @clarajanehen.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Whitmer repeals Michigan's 1931 abortion ban