Governor Whitmer Repeals Michigan’s 1931 Law Banning Abortion

Health & Gender Policy Brief #160 | By: Arvind Salem | April 18, 2023

Header photo taken from: wgvunews.org/Al Goldis/Associated Press

Policy Summary

On April 5, Governor Whitmer overturned Michigan’s 1931 law banning abortion. While the law was not in effect, its repeal represents a massive victory for abortion supporters across the state.

Although the law is referred to as the “1931 law”, it was actually passed in 1846 and revised in 1931. The law made it a four-year felony to assist in an abortion except to save the mother’s life. Notably, the law was passed before women and people of color were granted the right to vote and before the ratification of Michigan’s constitution in 1963. These facts and the social changes after the law’s passage have made the law subject to heavy criticism today and have supplied fodder for challenges to the law.

When the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade last summer, Governor Whitmer and Planned Parenthood both filed for injunctions to prevent the 1931 law from taking effect. Both efforts were successful, based on the aforementioned legal grounds, and eventually led to a permanent injunction, meaning the law could not be legally enforced and would not govern abortions in Michigan in the absence of Roe v. Wade. Furthermore, in the 2022 elections, voters in Michigan overwhelmingly passed Proposition 3: a ballot initiative that added abortion protections to the state constitution.

The repeal of this law adds a new protection to abortion rights in Michigan. There was concern that anti-abortion activists could bide their time and introduce a proposition of their own that overturns proposition 3. If that were to occur, 1931 would once again be binding. The repeal of the 1931 law eliminates that possibility and forces anti-abortion activists to not only overturn Proposition 3 but also pass a law of their own if they wish to criminalize abortion.

Governor Whitmer Repeals Michigan’s 1931 Law Banning Abortion

Photo taken from: bridgemi.com/Dale Young/Bridge Michigan

Policy Analysis

This is a resounding victory for Democrats, who proved that they can pass legislation when given their first trifecta in nearly 40 years. This is an especially important achievement for Governor Whitmer, as she largely ran on protecting abortion rights, and has passed legislation fulfilling this promise within her first 100 days of office, and recently passed a package to deal with gun violence and school shootings, specifically concerning background checks and safe storage requirements, after Michigan experienced two tragic school shootings at Oxford High School and Michigan State University. The implications for the governor’s next election cycle remain to be seen. By passing this repeal she has delivered on an important campaign promise but has partially lost the ability to run on the issue of protecting abortion now that it is protected in the state constitution and the 1931 law has been repealed. 

This news comes amid a larger conflict on abortion in the wake of a Texas district judge’s ruling that suspended FDA approval for mifepristone, an abortion pill, and the decision upon appeal to the fifth circuit that fell short of suspending FDA approval for the pill, but upheld restrictions that would prevent it from being sent through the mail. The news in Michigan is a bright spot for abortion activists who hope to harness that energy and messaging to solidify abortion rights in more traditionally red states.

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Engagement Resources​

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NARAL Pro-Choice America

NARAL Pro-Choice America is an advocacy organization that works to elect lawmakers that support reproductive freedom and lobby lawmakers to support pro-choice bills by organizing and mobilizing a large network of pro-choice supporters. Readers interested in supporting the pro-choice movement may be interested in donating or volunteering with this organization.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan

Planned Parenthood of Michigan is a branch of the national Planned Parenthood organization that seeks to encourage bodily autonomy and informed reproductive decisions, and helps facilitate abortions as part of this mission. Readers interested in supporting the pro-choice movement may be interested in donating to this organization.

Right to Life of Michigan

Right to Life of Michigan is an organization that works to preserve and educate others on the sanctity of life across the issue areas of abortion, infanticide, euthanasia, and assisted suicide by working for the passage of the Human Life Amendment by mobilizing pro-life supporters and elected pro-life candidates. Readers interested in supporting the pro-life movement may want to donate or involve themselves with this organization.

Emily’s List

Emily’s List is a national organization that works to elect pro-choice, democratic women by recruiting and mobilizing support for their candidacies and campaigns. Readers who would like to see electoral change in favor of the pro-choice movement in states besides Michigan would be interested in contributing to this organization.

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