As I read the U.S. Supreme Court’s draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, I was devastated. It was shocking to see, laid out in cold legalese, the blatant ideological reasoning gutting the constitutional right to abortion.
I understand the frustration that many are feeling. I feel it too. Roe has been the law of the land for 49 years, nearly my entire lifetime. But it may not be the law of the land for my daughters. Many of us feared this day would come, which is why last month I filed a lawsuit and, drawing on authority granted to me as governor, asked the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately resolve whether our State Constitution includes the right to gain access to abortion.
As a woman born and raised in Michigan, I have a moral obligation to stand up for the rights of the nearly 2.2 million Michigan women who will lose their right to make decisions about their own bodies if Roe falls. Michigan, like several other states, has a law criminalizing abortion that is still on the books. It was enacted in 1931 and would make our state home to one of the most extreme anti-choice policies in the country once this decision from the court is officially released. If Roe falls, abortion will become a felony in Michigan, without exceptions for rape or incest.
My argument is predicated on the due process and equal protection clauses in our State Constitution. The due process clause of the Michigan Constitution protects the right to abortion in the same way that the United States Constitution does per Roe, and the equal protection clause prohibits the state from adopting laws based on paternalistic justifications and overbroad generalizations about the role of women in the work force and at home. Other state constitutions, including the constitutions of Kansas, Montana, Alaska and Florida, have already been interpreted to protect the right to abortion.
I hope that my novel lawsuit can offer a course of action for others to follow. I encourage my fellow pro-choice governors, state legislators, private sector leaders and citizens to use every available tool to protect access to safe, legal abortions. Given that Michigan has a Republican-controlled legislature,I am not optimistic that I — as a pro-choice Democratic governor — can get a bill passed to overturn the 1931 Michigan law.
Those in states where abortion is already protected at the state level, and where it will remain accessible if Roe falls, may feel protected. There is, however, a very real danger that in a few short years, with complete control of the federal levers of power, anti-choice, anti-women extremists could enact a federal abortion ban, which could abolish abortion nationally, regardless of state law. This is not theoretical — it is their endgame.
At the national level, I joined with several of my fellow governors from across the country to urge Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The bill, already passed by the House of Representatives, would put the protections offered by Roe into federal law. I implore senators to come together and get it done. But I am not going to sit on my hands waiting for Congress to do something.
A majority of the American people support safe, legal abortion and the protections offered by Roe. They do not want the Supreme Court or state lawmakers to strip away a fundamental right that women have had for almost half a century. Americans in every region of the nation, including in Michigan, trust women, not politicians, to make decisions about their own bodies. They also oppose punishing women for seeking abortions, and they oppose abortion bans that begin at six weeks, before most women even know that they are pregnant.
Whether through legislation, executive action, ballot initiative or civic engagement, the answer to the overtly political ruling of a supposedly apolitical, unelected body is to engage in every way and at every level. The answer is to get creative.
A handful of states protected access to abortion via ballot initiatives in the 1990s. In 2019, Illinois, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont codified access in their state laws. Massachusetts joined in December 2020, and New Jersey did in January 2022. Colorado did last month, and Connecticut did last week. In California, there are efforts underway to add access to safe, legal abortion to the State Constitution. States are leading the way.
The private sector is joining us. Amazon, Citigroup, Levi Strauss and Yelp will cover travel costs for employees seeking medical procedures that cannot be performed where they reside — including abortion. Lyft and Uber will pay any legal fees for drivers who are sued for bringing women to abortion clinics in states that penalize or criminalize those who help someone, even tangentially, get to a medical appointment for an abortion. More companies must join them.
If we do not use every lever of power we have right now, or if we succumb to complacency, Americans will suffer and may die. Many will be out of sight, forgotten. Most will be poor. A sizable contingent will be women of color. We can all sense the hopelessness and despair that tens of millions of American women — our neighbors, family members and friends — are feeling. But despair is a choice, and pessimism is a luxury. We must take unprecedented steps to protect the right to choose.