Abortion Is Galvanizing Voters. Michigan’s Ballot Measure Will Show Us How Much.

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The referendum to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution will be one of the most closely watched in the midterms.

“I just need some space” is a disingenuous way to tell a romantic partner you’re Just Not That Into Them. As the top Michigan court ruled last week, it’s also a disingenuous way to attempt to remove from the Michigan midterm ballot an abortion-rights referendum that received 325,000 more voter signatures than the required 425,000. 

But that’s what Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children argued last month in a complaint to Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers. The anti-abortion group alleged the proposed ballot measure text, which sought to explicitly insert into Michigan’s constitution reproductive rights up until fetal viability, lacked enough spacing between words, rendering the verbiage into “groupings of letters that are found in no dictionary and are incapable of having any meaning.”

To be clear, the amendment is at the very least legible. Restaurants and magazines probably shouldn’t employ the ballot measure’s maker to design their menus or page layouts, but it’s not the “hodgepodge of nonsensical gibberish” that Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children made it out to be.

Nonetheless, the spacing complaint culminated in the amendment being blocked from the ballot because it needed the sign-off of three Board of State Canvassers members, and the group was split 2-2 on their decision along party lines. In a last-ditch effort, the abortion-rights group Reproductive Freedom for All, which spearheaded the ballot initiative, requested the state’s highest court weigh in on the issue.

In a 5-2 decision on Thursday night, the state Supreme Court ordered the ballot referendum to be reinstated in the upcoming election. The Michigan Board of Canvassers then voted unanimously to follow the court’s order on Friday, which was the state’s deadline to certify ballots before clerks can begin sending them to voters ahead of the November 8 election.

But if the back and forth over typography seems trivial, it’s because the stakes resulting from the decision to place the referendum on the ballot are anything but—and not just for Michigan.

More so than any other individual race or ballot referendum, the results of this measure in this particularly purple state will reveal the degree to which middle-America voters support strong abortion protections in practice rather than in the abstract. This November, Michiganders aren’t merely voting for a US House candidate who promises to advocate for abortion rights in a Congress that has thus far failed to move the needle on the issue, nor are they voting to secure abortion in cases of rape or incest, in the first trimester, or in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy. Instead, for the first time since Roe fell, a swing state comprising many Americans in the center of the I-support-abortion-rights bell curve will have to decide whether to enshrine in their state constitution full abortion rights for all through roughly 23-24 weeks of pregnancy, or leave it up to the whims of future state lawmakers to legislate abortion access.

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