“The people of Michigan cannot sit back and take comfort without also understanding that elections matter and that there is a full-on concerted effort to pass a national ban, which would mean the people of Michigan would not be as safe,” said Vice President Kamala Harris during a roundtable discussion concerning abortion in Grand Rapids, Michigan on February 22 of this year. This appearance in the Great Lakes state was part of her national “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour, in which she has visited both pro-choice and pro-life states. Unfortunately, Harris’ visit to Michigan was one of celebration for the strides the state has made to protect abortion, as well as of exhortation to continue down its pro-choice path.

Michigan is one of the most radically pro-choice states in the entire country. According to Protect Life Michigan, over ninety unborn children are killed by abortion in the state every day, which is about 32,850 babies lost every year. Multiple laws and orders protecting abortion, especially since Roe v. Wade was overturned, have been weaved into the state’s government and society, perhaps no better displayed than in Proposal 3 being enshrined into the constitution itself in November of 2023. Governor Gretchen Whitmer has vowed to not back down and to fight as hard as she can to protect abortion rights.

As a young Michigander, I have been struggling to have hope in a future pro-life culture in my state. It’s been tough to see the efforts of my local pro-life group include only a few members, and for their hard work to go without much praise or visible results. Michigan, of course, is not the only radically pro-abortion state in the country, and so many other pro-lifers are in the exact same situation as my fellow Michiganders are. What can we do to champion life in states that champion death? In order to answer this question, I’ll take a look at Michigan’s abortion history, its standing on the issue in the present, and on what options we have to hopefully steer the state we love down a different path in this article.

Our Past

According to Marvin N. Olasky in his book Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America, “At no time (from the 17th to the early 19th centuries) was abortion considered legitimate and legal, but the practice did occur when some women fell through the cracks, taking their unborn children with them.” Most states passed bans on the practice of abortion with exceptions, including Michigan, which banned abortion in 1846, designating it as a felony with the exception of saving the life of the mother (though today abortion is never necessary to save the mother’s life). This ban was revised in 1931 by the legislature; carrying out an abortion was a felony punishable up to four years. 

However, as the 1900s continued, radical change was on the political and societal horizon. The Mothers Clinic was established in Detroit in 1922 and provided birth control. It was from this clinic that Planned Parenthood Michigan began and grew across the state, providing “family planning” services. The Supreme Court ruled in Griswold v. Connecticut that married persons have a constitutional right to birth control in 1965, furthering the movement for expanded abortion rights. As the women’s rights movement grew, abortion supporters began advocating for Michigan’s laws to be revised, activating pro life movements across the nation. By 1970, pro-life groups began informally meeting together to address pro-choice legislation throughout the state.

One example of this change is evident in the story of Republican Senator Lorraine Beebe, the third woman in history to ever serve on the Michigan Senate. She was a mother and reproductive rights activist, which led her to reveal that she had aborted one of her children in the past to preserve her health during a floor debate on Senate Bill 287. This bill would have allowed licensed physicians to perform abortions in specified cases. Sixteen voted for it, while seventeen voted against it, and Beebe lost her bid for reelection in 1970.

In October 1972, Michigan abortions were ruled unconstitutional by a Wayne County Circuit Court. Just a month later, 1.96 million or 61% of state voters rejected Proposal 3, a referendum which would have legalized abortion in the first three months of pregnancy if performed by a licensed physician; pro-life groups had joined to create the Voice of the Unborn in order to defeat the proposal. However, just the next year, the Supreme Court ruled that women have a constitutional right to abortion in the court case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion through all stages of pregnancy in the country. 

Nevertheless, the struggle between pro-life and pro-choice legislation continued in Michigan. After the Roe v. Wade decision, the executive director of the Michigan Catholic Conference, Tom Bergeson, said, “We will obviously intensify our efforts to educate as many people as will listen to us on the sanctity of human life.” The pro-life movement certainly did this. The Voice of the Unborn coalition formed the Michigan Citizens for Life, which eventually became Right to Life Michigan, held pro-life state conventions, and published a state-wide pro-life newspaper. In 1976, the state passed legislation forbidding school officials from making abortion referrals, and  forbidding the use of federal funds from Medicaid from covering abortions. Two years later, the legislature adopted a new Public Health Code, which banned the conduction of research on fetuses, and allowed health care workers and facilities to refuse to participate in abortions. 

The pro-choice movement worked just as hard. Just a month after Roe v. Wade, on February 23, Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelley ruled that abortion was legal. Before his ruling, a three-judge federal panel in Detroit followed suit with the U.S. Supreme Court, and declared that Michigan’s 1846 law banning abortion in most cases was unconstitutional. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Governors William Milliken and James Blanchard issued vetoes on attempts to prohibit or all out ban Medicaid-funded abortions using state funds rather than federal. During these years, the state financed an average of 19,000 abortions per year.

In 1987, Right to Life Michigan launched one of the most successful citizen-led petition drives in all of state history when it gave state lawmakers legislation with about 500,000 signatures that would ban the use of public funds being used for abortions. This legislation was enacted in June of that year, and a referendum on overturning this ban failed the following year, with 57% of citizens opposing it. As a result of this ban, abortions in the state declined from 45,438 in 1988 to 35,138 in the following year. In the same fashion, the organization launched another successful petition to bring the Parental Rights Restoration Act, which would require at least one parent to offer consent before their teenager could have an abortion, before the legislature. The measure passed in September. Furthermore, John Engler, the first pro-life governor of Michigan in twenty years, was elected in 1990. At the same time, Jack Kevorkian, a famous euthanasia proponent in Michigan, performed his first public assisted suicide.

In 1992, an informed consent law requiring women to receive counseling and to wait twenty-four hours before making an abortion appointment was passed by the legislature, which ensured women were given more accurate, complete information about the procedure they were planning to undergo. Assisted suicide was banned in the state in 1993, but the ban was declared unconstitutional by Michigan judges after the ACLU legally challenged it. State laws concerning foster care were revised, ensuring that children were adopted more quickly and that costs for adopting infants were reduced (Right to Life Michigan led this change).

Amazingly, Michigan became the first state to pass a ban on partial-birth abortion, in which forceps extract a baby in the second or third trimester by the feet until the head is just left inside of the dilated cervix, and the baby’s skull is punctured so that its contents can be suctioned, but it was ruled unconstitutional the following year in 1997 by a federal court. In 1998, Proposal 3, which would legalize assisted suicide in the state, was on the ballot again, but it was defeated with a 71% majority. 

The first cloning human ban in the country was passed in that year, along with the Prenatal Protection Act, which granted legal protection to unborn children in the case that they were injured or killed by criminal action. A ban, which defined a partially-born baby as an infant with human and legal rights, was signed by the governor again in 1999, but it was again ruled unconstitutional. Three new laws regulating abortion clinics were passed and signed by the governor that same year. 

In 2002, the Born Alive Infant Protection Act was passed, which required abortion survivors to have the same equality as other babies. The Legal Birth Definition Act, yet another attempt to ban partial-birth abortion in Michigan, was approved by the legislature but was vetoed by the governor. In 2006, the Ultrasound Viewing Option law was passed and required abortion providers to grant patients the opportunity to view an ultrasound of their unborn baby. Proposal 2, a proposal which legalized the murder of human embryos for research, passed by a narrow margin. By 2009, an average of 22,357 abortions occurred annually in the state. The long fifteen year struggle to ban partial-birth abortion finally culminated with the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, which mirrored federal law, finally being signed into law in 2011. In 2016, the Coercive Abortion Prevention Act, which required screening for any force before an abortion occurs, passed.

Unfortunately, in the years afterward, the pro-choice movement’s work would begin to overshadow all of the pro-life efforts and laws that had been fought for in the Democratic-leaning state of Michigan amid a Roe v. Wade world.

Our Present

Michigan’s abortion culture began to change drastically when the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade loomed on the horizon. In 2019, the same year that Governor Gretchen Whitmer took office, Right to Life Michigan led yet another petition drive for citizen-initiated legislation to ban late term dismemberment abortions, also known as dilation and evacuation abortions. 379,418 signatures were submitted, but the Bureau of Elections ruled that there were not enough valid signatures submitted for it to go into effect. Whitmer allowed abortion clinics to continue their line of work, while pro-life public events and programs were disrupted by the pandemic. Mifepristone, the common abortion drug, was allowed to be mailed after telemedicine consultations by the FDA due to the pandemic as well. 

In January of 2022, pro-choice organizations throughout Michigan united and formed a coalition called Reproductive Freedom for All to amend Michigan’s constitution and abolish most of the pro-life statutes in the state. In that same year, the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition began a petition drive to ban abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which usually occurs at the beginning of week three. In his book Let Them Live: How Saving One Life From Abortion Sparked a Movement, Nathan Berning recalled how this move for a Heartbeat Bill began and failed: 

“…I reached out to a friend of mine in Michigan (about a possible Heartbeat Bill). Steve Carra worked in the office of Republican State Representative Steve Johnson, and when I told my friend about the Heartbeat Bill, he couldn’t wait to tell his boss. Before long, a version of the bill was introduced in the Michigan House and was being debated on the floor…It was so simple. Being able to detect a heartbeat showed the child in the womb was not just some clump of cells. Abortion would stop that beating heart, so of course the baby needed to be protected…But the legislation never made it that far. To my shock, the fiercest opposition to the bill came from pro-life groups rather than pro-choice organizations. Michigan Right to Life…denounced the bill as unnecessary and an affront to the true pro-life movement. They argued that Michigan already had some of the strictest anti-abortion laws on the books. The Heartbeat Bill, they said, would only weaken and nullify them. Of course, these laws weren’t in effect, because Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. Once Roe was overturned, they told us, Michigan would be one of the most pro-life states in the country – without the Heartbeat Bill.”

This, of course, hasn’t been the case. The petition failed to garner enough signatures. In the face of Roe v. Wade’s coming overturning, Planned Parenthood and Governor Whitmer filed lawsuits challenging the 1931 abortion law, which would effectively ban abortion if the case was overturned as expected. Bills that would repeal the ban were introduced on the Senate floor. On May 25, 2022, Governor Whitmer issued Executive Directive 2022-5, which ordered state departments to refuse to cooperate with any other state or agency that was attempting to prosecute anyone who performs, assists with, or has an abortion. It also called agencies to increase protections and raise awareness for “reproductive health care.” She stated, “Whatever happens at the U.S. Supreme Court, my administration is committed to ensuring that all Michigan residents have access to safe and affordable health care, including contraception. A woman’s health, not politics, should guide life-changing medical decisions.” 

When Roe was ultimately revoked, which gave states the power to legislate freely concerning abortion, Michigan’s 1931 ban went into effect, but Whitmer and Planned Parenthood filed separate lawsuits against it. In August 2022, Judge Jacob Cunningham put an indefinite ban on the bill into place by claiming that any enforcement of it would endanger women, saying that, “A person carrying a child has the right to bodily autonomy and integrity as well as a safe doctor-patient relationship free from government interference, as they have been able to do so for nearly 50 years.” Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher followed suit and blocked the ban on the basis that it was unconstitutional. Michigan lawmakers in both the House of Representatives and the Senate advanced pro-choice laws in March of 2023, including bills that would fully repeal the 1931 law. 

Even before the 1931 ban was wholly revoked, the pro-life cause in Michigan faced yet another setback with the approval of Proposal 3. On November 8, 2022, Proposal 3 was approved by 57% of voters, which made ‘reproductive freedom,’ which it defined as “the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care,” an unlimited constitutional right. 

In response, Protect Life Michigan stated, “Today is a heartbreaking day for pro-life advocates in Michigan. Many of us exerted incredible effort to overcome Proposal 3…It has never been more crucial to advocate for unborn children in Michigan. Your voice for life is needed NOW more than ever. Though we mourn this incredible loss, we have not raised a white flag—we will continue fighting for vulnerable women and children, and we will keep working toward the day when abortion comes to a full end.” Meanwhile, Darci McConnell, a spokeswoman for Reproductive Freedom for All, said, “Today, the people of Michigan voted to restore the reproductive rights they’ve had for 50 years. Proposal 3’s passage marks a historic victory for abortion access in our state and in our country – and Michigan has paved the way for future efforts to restore the rights and protections of Roe v. Wade nationwide.”

“Voters in the state…approved a constitutional amendment affirming a “right to abortion,” but Democratic lawmakers wanted to pass legislation to cement the repeal of the 1931 law by overturning it outright,” reported Live Action News. And so, Governor Whitmer signed the passed legislation that fully abolished Michigan’s 1931 ban, later saying that by doing so, they ‘saved lives’ (how ironic), and that it was ‘good economics.’ 

Even more pro-choice laws have been passed and signed in Michigan since, including the extreme Reproductive Health Act, which Protect Life Michigan referred to in its statement that, “Never before in Michigan history has such appallingly anti-life legislation been passed.” This package of bills legalized the previously banned procedure of partial-birth abortion, repealed the Born-Alive Protection Act, eliminated health and safety standards in abortion clinics, and allowed college health centers to refer students for abortions. Students for Life stated that, “Tragically, these new laws now make Michigan as extreme on abortion as New York and Illinois.” While this dramatic change in legislation has been occurring, some of the most shocking actions against pro-lifers have been taken in the state of Michigan, with an abortionist hitting Mark Zimmerman, a pro-life side counselor, with his car twice, leaving the pro-lifer seriously injured. Vandalization and attacks against churches and pregnancy resource centers have occurred throughout the state, and a Michigan man named Richard Harvey shot an elderly pro-life volunteer named Joan Jacobson while she was canvassing against proposal 3.

Our present Michigan is one of the most extreme pro-abortion states in the entire country, with 30,120 abortions occurring in 2022. It can be tempting to think that the future will be just as grim…

Our Future

…but we can’t give up just yet.

Christen Pollo, the executive director of Protect Life Michigan, stated it quite succinctly: “You know, the pro-life movement has undertaken the best cause imaginable: creating a world that respects human life. That is a vision of a world that is better for all of us. We fight because it is the right thing to do, not because we are promised success. We don’t mourn because we lost a political battle. We mourn because we live in a world that has lost the ability to draw the most important moral line in the sand: the line that protects us all…

If Michigan’s laws won’t protect the unborn, we will have to convince people to protect them. If we can make our state hate abortion, the laws we live under won’t matter. That’s what our mission is all about. We save lives by winning people to our side…We have a responsibility to defend all human life, no matter the laws we are under. So, yes – we mourn today. But tomorrow, we get back to work. It is now up to all of us to be advocates for the unborn. We are needed now more than ever…rest assured: if abortion doesn’t stop, neither do we.”

We can’t lose sight of the ultimate goal – creating a pro-life culture, one that protects the unborn, supports mothers, and strengthens families. The world around us, not just Michigan, does not reflect these values often. We live in a society that champions death, but instead of losing hope in the fight, we must pick ourselves up and keep resisting – it is in these moments that we are needed the most!

So yes, while Governor Whitmer and Vice President Kamala Harris are pushing for more and more pro-abortion extremism in Michigan and the state at large, there are pinpricks of hope that shine all the while. Michigan is also the home of Tasha Kann, the brave mother who made national news with her decision to refuse abortion in the face of brain cancer. It is the home of Grace Szymchack, a Ferris State University student who attended her graduation ceremony with her precious 10-day old daughter. And it is the home of thousands of pro-lifers that are making a difference, one life at a time. We must continue to fight – how, you may ask?

  • Work with pro-life organizations, including Protect Life Michigan or Right to Life Michigan. Prayer, donation, school or college groups, and more are just some of the ways you can help in their efforts!
  • Support and share pro-life truth that is being spread in your community and on social media. Hit that like and repost button, have that local pro-life bake sale, or volunteer at your local pregnancy resource center!
  • Be an example of pro-life love to those around you in your daily life. Listen, ask questions, and have grace. Changing hearts is more important than just changing minds.

The light shines in the darkness, and ultimately the darkness will not overcome it – not in Michigan, not in the United States, not in the entire world. Life will ultimately win.

Cover photo by Amit Thakral via Pexels

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I love history, Middle Earth, writing, cinema, and Jesus. I hope to use the gifts He has given me to spread the Truth about His love and protect those in the womb.

The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.