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Michigan Legislature advances repeal of 1931 abortion ban — though the ban is already unenforceable

Pro-abortion-rights activists hold signs alongside anti-abortion-rights activists outside the Supreme Court last month.
Saul Loeb
AFP/Getty Images
Pro-abortion-rights activists hold signs alongside anti-abortion-rights activists outside the Supreme Court last month.

A repeal of Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban advanced to the House and Senate floors Wednesday.

That’s as committees in both chambers held hearings on similar legislation.

A constitutional amendment voters approved last year that guarantees the right to abortion makes the ban unenforceable.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan Chief Medical Officer Dr. Sarah Wallett spoke in favor of the repeal before the House Judiciary committeeWednesday. She said it needs to come off the books regardless of its current status.

“It’s terrifying to know that a nearly century-old ban remains on Michigan’s law books threatening to label me a felon. I should not have to fear being arrested, separated from my family, stripped of my medical license and barred from practicing medicine simply for providing the care my patients depend on,” Wallett said.

The 1931 ban became a concern for advocates last year when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. A string of lawsuits from the governor, Planned Parenthood of Michigan, and others succeeded in tying the law up in court before it could snap back into effect — though there was a day last summer when it wasn't clear what law was in force in the state.

In her House testimony Wednesday, ACLU Legislative Director Merissa Kovach argued currently defunct legislation could still pose a risk to abortion access.

“These extreme and archaic laws now most clearly stand in direct contradiction to our constitution, and they should be repealed. As we know all too well, there is a danger in allowing unconstitutional laws, especially laws that threaten the health and safety of Michiganders to remain on our books,” Kovach said.

The densely packed hour-long meeting also saw some groups question the need for a repeal.

Rebecca Mastee is with the Michigan Catholic Conference. She said there should be more alternatives to abortion.

“To those who say some women need abortion to be available, especially women with fewer economic resources or opportunities, I ask what if they were supported? What if society focused on providing her and her family with health care, adequate resources, education and employment opportunities?” Mastee said.

House leadership said they expect to see the repeal legislation move soon.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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