Quiet conversations are beginning in Republican circles about the possibility of the state House and Senate taking up a modest abortion proposal to defuse the arguably expansive Reproductive Freedom For All ballot proposal.
The rough idea is for the Legislature to put on the governor's desk a bill banning abortion after 12 to 15 weeks, requiring parental consent for minors seeking abortions and other regulations that a majority of Michigan voters would support.
The idea is two-fold: First, it would present to the public an alternative that likely a majority of voters would support: limited abortions under strict regulations. This would be in stark contrast to the all-or-nothing options voters are stuck with.
Second, it forces Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to make a decision. If she were to sign a legislative abortion alternative, it would likely deflate the "Reproductive Freedom For All" ballot proposal and weaken the abortion issue as a campaign talking point.
If she were to veto it, she could be framed as an extremist supporting "abortion on demand" and make the Republicans look like they were willing to work with Democrats on a middle-of-the-road alternative.
A June Pew Research poll found that 61% of Americans are not absolute on abortion. The majority fall within that gray area of some level of exceptions. Meanwhile, 29% believe abortion should be legal in all cases, while 8% believe it should be illegal.
Yet, Michigan's abortion policy is being played on the extremes.
The “pro-life” side wants the 1931 abortion ban in place, which only provides exceptions for the mother's life. The “pro-choice” side wants voters to pass a proposal that allows for all abortion until the day of birth. The state could later limit abortions to the stage of "fetal viability" as long as the mother's mental and physical health is a permanent carve out.
It gives "every individual … a fundamental right to reproductive freedom and effectuate decisions about all matters related to pregnancy … abortion care." This provision would end parental consent to abortion and gender changes, if you believe that is what "sterilization" means.
The anti-ballot-proposal side is planning an expensive ad campaign to bring up wild scenarios this constitutional amendment could make real: Youth starting gender transitioning without parental consent. Prosecutors unable to charge "back-alley abortionists” who botch a procedure.
Maybe it all works. Perhaps the scenarios are too outrageous for voters to believe.
Voters in Kansas two weeks ago showed they don't want a near-abortion ban, and Michigan Republican legislators don't want to be on the receiving end of that sentiment. They don't want to be looking at complete abortion legalization on Nov. 9 and feel like they could have done something to limit it and didn't.
They don't want the Michigan Supreme Court to overturn the 1931 abortion ban law, as the governor is asking, and play the "what if" game.
The biggest initial hurdle is getting to first base with the idea in the wildly conservative Republican caucuses in both the House and Senate. Many of the members came into office with Right to Life support. They have moral issues with anything other than abortions limited to the life of the mother. Some support abortion exceptions for rape and incest, but not all.
Selling this idea to individual members would be much work, even if the political benefits make sense.
Emily Kroll, who runs the Michigan Right to Life's Political Action Committee, said, "Unequivocally, we would never support that."
Reproductive Freedom For All is a roll of the dice for everyone. It's all or nothing.
It's either "abortion on demand" or no abortion at all.
Republican legislators could look like the sensible middle as they work hard to connect with independents in their quest to keep the majority of the House and Senate.
Or they die on the hill with Right to Life and have, "We don't play politics with human lives" written on their political tombstone.
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