Michigan’s Abortion Extremism: A Cautionary Tale for Ohio?

Ohio pro-life advocates look to Michigan’s recent push for taxpayer-funded abortion as the Buckeye State faces an amendment that would enshrine a right to an abortion in the state Constitution.

Joslynn Latynski, center, Airees Murland, second from right, and Holly McMahon, fourth from right, from Jefferson County Christian School in Wintersville, Ohio, sing during the Ohio March for Life, at the Ohio State House in Columbus on Oct. 6.
Joslynn Latynski, center, Airees Murland, second from right, and Holly McMahon, fourth from right, from Jefferson County Christian School in Wintersville, Ohio, sing during the Ohio March for Life, at the Ohio State House in Columbus on Oct. 6. (photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP)

WASHINGTON — As Ohioans face a vote to enshrine broad abortion access in the state Constitution this November, pro-life advocates say they can look to efforts from emboldened abortion advocates in Michigan, who succeeded with a similar measure in that state last year, to preview what could be in store. 

The slim Democratic majority in the Michigan Legislature is currently looking to pass a sweeping package of bills that includes taxpayer funding for abortion, dispensing with health and safety requirements for abortion facilities, and eliminating a 24-hour waiting period before the procedure.  

On Nov. 7, Ohioans will vote on Issue 1, which would add “an individual right to one’s own reproductive medical treatment, including but not limited to abortion” in the state Constitution, which includes allowing “an unborn child to be aborted at any stage of pregnancy, regardless of viability if, in the treating physician’s determination, the abortion is necessary to protect the pregnant woman’s life or health.”

Last fall, around 57% of Michigan voters backed Proposal 3, adding similar language to the state Constitution that “every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom” and “the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy,” including abortion. The amendment said that, even after viability, in “no circumstance shall the state prohibit an abortion that, in the professional judgment of an attending health care professional, is medically indicated to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual.” 


From ‘Restore Roe’ to ‘Beyond Roe

Following the success of Proposal 3 in 2022, Michigan Democrats are now attempting to pass 11 measures, dubbed the Reproductive Health Act, repealing laws that they say “hinder access to reproductive health.” 

The package of bills would remove the state’s prohibition on partial-birth abortions and would eliminate reporting requirements for abortion, including a requirement that doctors “file a written report regarding patients who suffer a physical complication or death that is a primary, secondary, or tertiary result of an abortion.”

It would dispense with a requirement that a patient be provided with “a description of the procedure, a medically accurate depiction of a fetus at the same probable gestational age” 24 hours before the procedure and eliminates the informed-consent document signed at the end of that period. The measure would also require Medicaid to cover abortions for low-income women.

Genevieve Marnon, legislative director at Right to Life of Michigan, told the Register that abortion supporters in the Great Lakes State have been pushing for the repeal of these laws long before the passage of Proposal 3, but are claiming they now have a mandate from the people after Proposal 3 passed and despite the latest repeal measures being unpopular with the public. 

According to polling released in May by the Michigan Catholic Conference, 63% of Michigan voters support the state’s current 24-hour waiting period to provide women with informed consent on the procedure, including 65% of pro-choice voters and 65% of Proposal 3 supporters. They also found that 90% of Michigan voters want abortion businesses to be licensed and inspected by the state for the purpose of meeting basic health and sanitation standards, including 97% of “pro-choice” voters and 97% of Proposal 3 supporters.

Marnon said that she has seen rhetoric in Ohio from the proponents of Issue 1 saying “the sky’s not going to fall. Look at Michigan: They still have all their laws in place,” but the Reproductive Health Act is now taking aim at these pro-life laws. She added that abortion advocates in Michigan used the slogan “Restore Roe” in their push to amend the state Constitution last year, but “every single one of the laws they’re trying to repeal have been in place under Roe. So clearly they want to go well beyond Roe.” 

Amy Natoce, press secretary for the Protect Women Ohio coalition of pro-life groups opposing the amendment, told the Register that Michigan is “serving as a perfect case study for what could be coming Ohio’s way should Issue 1 pass.” She said the language in Michigan’s constitutional amendment last year was “incredibly similar to what we are considering right now in Ohio.”

“Last year in Michigan, we heard a lot of the pro-life groups, a lot of the pro-parent, pro-woman groups raising serious concerns about Prop 3, arguing that it would strip away parental-consent laws in Michigan, it would allow for unlimited late-term abortion in the state, and that it would remove health and safety standards for women,” she said. “Here we are, a later year later, and we’re already seeing pro-life, pro-women laws falling by the wayside.”

Marnon pointed out that while an effort to repeal parental-consent laws was not part of the Reproductive Health Act this time around, the sponsor of the main bill, state Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, has stated that while they “didn’t want to include anything that would have prohibited the rest of the package from getting through at this point in time,” there was “a broader and continuing conversation” around repealing parental-consent laws.

The push in Michigan includes the repeal of the state’s prohibition on partial-birth abortion. 

Natoce highlighted that late-term abortion doctor Martin Haskell, who is based in Dayton and pioneered the partial-birth abortion procedure, is “the single largest individual donor to the ‘Yes on Issue 1’ campaign,” with a $100,000 donation. Haskell wrote in 1992 about “routinely” performing abortions at 20 to 24 weeks, where he would cut into the partially delivered baby’s skull with scissors.


Democrat Opposes Abortion Measure

Pro-lifers are not the only ones to raise the alarm about the attempt to lift health and safety standards for abortion facilities in Michigan. 

State Rep. Karen Whitsett, D-Detroit, who is “pro-choice” and supported Proposal 3, voted against the new measure when it came up in the health policy committee last month. Because of the Democrats’ razor-thin majority in the Michigan House, Whitsett would need to get on board with the package of bills for their passage.

Whitsett, who has publicly stated she had an abortion, is opposed to the use of Medicaid funds for abortion, doing away with the 24-hour waiting period, and eliminating screening for coercion. She told Catholic News Agency that she didn’t “see anything wrong with being asked if you are being coerced into a termination.” 

“I’ve been raped. I’ve gone through the process of trying to make the hard decision. I did the 24-hour pause,” she told NPR. "I still do not think that 24 hours of a pause, to make sure you’re making the right decision, is too much to ask.”

“People are saying, ‘I agree to reproductive health. But I never agreed to pay for it,’” Whitsett also told NPR, regarding her constituents’ views on Medicaid-funded abortion. “I think that’s very fair. ... I just do not think that that’s something that should be asked of anyone as a taxpayer.” 

Marnon pointed out that Whitsett represents the city of Detroit, which “has the highest abortion rates in the state,” so her concerns are understandable ,as “the repeal of these commonsense health and safety laws will disproportionately affect her own constituents.” She called Whitsett an example of how you don’t need to be pro-life to “agree that these bills are dangerous” and allow “the abortion industry to put profits over patient safety.”


Future Ballot-Initiative Battles

Regarding ballot-initiative efforts ahead, Melanie Israel, a policy analyst on life issues at the Heritage Foundation, told the Register that the abortion lobby is “definitely picking and targeting their battles where they think they can see success.” 

She said that if “things go poorly for the pro-life movement in Ohio, it’s just going to further embolden the abortion lobby” to “raise more money and organize more, try to target more states that do have pro-life protections on the books right now. It’s going to be something that the pro-life movement is going to have to do a lot of preparing to fight on multiple fronts.”

Danielle Pimentel, policy counsel at Americans United for Life, told the Register that the language in these pro-abortion amendments is “very deceptive” so “when voters read the language that’s presented to them on the ballot, they may not understand the legal consequences and implications of what these amendments can do or that they may empower the Legislature to seek to repeal certain pro-life protections, like we’re seeing in Michigan.”

Denise Burke, senior counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, told the Register that once abortion is enshrined in a state’s constitution, “there are multiple ways for abortion advocates to realize their goal of unfettered, unregulated abortion.”  

While Ohio does not have a pro-abortion majority in the state Legislature, as is the case in Michigan, abortion advocates can “file lawsuits in court to say, ‘now that we have this fundamental right to abortion, all these types of laws are now unconstitutional under our state Constitution.’”

As abortion proponents push for similar ballot initiatives in five more states in 2024, with confirmed measures on the ballot in Maryland and New York so far, Burke said voters “need to learn the lesson of Michigan: that when voters approve these types of amendments, they can be opening Pandora’s box,” as “it can translate into unregulated, unrestricted abortion in your state.”

She said, “Pro-life advocates, both in the states and nationally, need to double down on our efforts to educate voters and talk to them about what it means to amend their fundamental state document to include something that protects so-called reproductive freedom and make sure people fully understand the import of what they’re doing.”