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The year’s biggest political story? For Michigan, it was abortion rights

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A partisan political consultant’s dream is to find THE issue. What are people talking about? What is pushing their buttons? What would motivate those passively interested in politics to vote?

If 2020 was keeping us safe from COVID and 2021 was keeping us safe from COVID regulations, 2022 was abortion.

Before June 24, American women had a right to an abortion. After that, it depended on which state you were standing in.

Michigan clinics never stopped offering the ability to terminate most early pregnancies, despite a 90-year-old law that banned it unless the mother’s life was at risk. 

After Roe v. Wade was overturned, Michigan was the only state with this type of law on the books that didn’t put it into effect.

This wasn’t by chance.

A coalition of groups led by the ACLU of Michigan, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan Voices made sure of it. Not only for 2022, but every year after. 

Their historic effort showed the foresight, organization and execution that changed lives and determined a lot of races in the Nov. 8 election.

It started in mid-2021, when Planned Parenthood officals, led by former CEO Lori Carpentier, learned — as much as they didn’t want to — that former President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court was poised to overturn Roe v. Wade. Abortion access nationwide would be gone.

Long before the unprecedented “leak” out of the U.S. Surpeme Court that Roe was toast, Planned Parenthood’s legal team crafted a legal motion arguing the 1931 law was unconstitutional.

Two months BEFORE the Dobbs ruling shifted abortion access back to the state, Planned Parenthood won its argument in court. The ‘31 law was suspended.

Meanwhile, ACLU Executive Director Lauren Khogali and Sommer Foster of Michigan Voices began working on a different track.

They, too, saw the inevitable overturning of Roe. Last January, they tapped the ACLU deputy legal director, Bonsitu Kitaba, to craft ballot proposal language enshrining reproductive freedom into the state Constitution.

The ACLU’s Shelli Weisberg helped rally the initial petition circulators. Nicole Wells Stallworth, the new executive director of Planned Parenthood’s political arm, was at the table. The ballot committee Reproductive Freedom For All was born.

Collectively, they warned women of child-bearing age that a right they’d had since they were born wasn’t going to be there. Unless they acted.

Sign this petition. Have your friends and families sign it. Share it with acquaintances. 

They did. June 24 came. People angry with the Dobbs ruling had an outlet to do something. 

Petition signature collection numbers exploded as the number of circulators doubled in a matter of two weeks. 

By the time Reproductive Freedom For All filed its signatures with the secretary of state, it had 753,759 names, far beyond the roughly 450,000 needed to make the ballot. It was the most signatures collected for a ballot initiative in state history.

Once given the name Proposal 3, the campaign committee raised more than $44 million to run an aggressive ad campaign. It successfully countered a message bankrolled by Right to Life and the Catholic Church that this proposal was among the country’s most expansive ballot proposals.

Not only did Proposal 3 pass with 56.6% of the vote, it also passed in 26 counties, which is eight more counties than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer won. It received more votes than the governor or any other statewide elected official.

Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and Michigan Voices harnessed the energy in the voting public and used it to not only pass its reform, but help such political allies as Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Democratic legislative candidates and Democrats up and down the ballot.

I’m not taking a position on the substance of their proposal. 

What is undeniable is that Reproductive Freedom For All found THE issue of 2022. It ran the type of proactive, effective, impactful and high-energy legal and political campaign the aforementioned political consultants dream about.

It was, without a close second, the Michigan political story of 2022.

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