Michigan Supreme Court decision has implications for women in Ohio, Indiana, even Kentucky

By: - September 12, 2022 4:50 am

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A Thursday ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court could have profound implications for women and their doctors in Ohio as well as other neighboring states.

The court ruled that a petition signed by a record 730,000 voters was valid and ordered that an amendment protecting abortion rights be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot, the Michigan Advance reported. The board of state canvassers followed the order on Friday.

The decision is important to Ohio women because if the amendment passes, it will mean that at least one bordering state will have constitutionally protected abortion rights. It will also mean that Michigan hospitals and clinics — strained to bursting — will have to add capacity if they’re going to eliminate their current long wait times.

Indiana, Kentucky, and West Virginia all have enacted abortion restrictions that are even stricter than Ohio’s. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s abortion rights are not enshrined on the state constitution, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Ohio’s law is quite strict. 

It bans the vast majority of abortions after about six weeks, a point at which a third of women and girls don’t know they’re pregnant. It doesn’t make exceptions for rape an incest — but only when it can be shown that the pregnancy is likely to kill or seriously injure the mother.

The Ohio law is forcing women to leave the state to terminate unwanted pregnancies. That’s already a tall task for people of limited means, and it becomes more difficult the farther they have to travel.

The law also forces travel upon women whose fetuses have abnormalities that make them almost certain to die.

“It’s not covered under the law,” Maria Phillis, a Northeast Ohio OB-GYN, said recently. “An otherwise healthy person comes in and they get an ultrasound and their baby has a defect that’s not compatible with life, we cannot do their termination here. We have to send them out of state.”

She described the difficulties with doing that in the current, chaotic legal environment.

“If we send them out of state and the laws change in that state, then we have to figure out where else to send them,” Phillis said. “We’ve had at least one person, they wanted to go out of state, but we were told to wait, the law’s changing, so we have to think of something else.”

Time Magazine last month reported on just such a case, that of Tara George, 34.  

In Michigan, one aim of the effort to build abortion rights into the state constitution is to invalidate a 1931 law banning it. It’s still on the books but was unenforceable until the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade on June 24. 

Abortion rights supporters gathered more than twice the required number of signatures to place the amendment on the Midterm ballot. But the two Republicans on the evenly split state canvassing board tried to kill the effort “because of a spacing error that squished together some words in the proposal language,” the Michigan Advance reported. 

A 5-2 majority of the state Supreme Court slammed that rationale and ordered the issue to be placed on the ballot.

It would seem to have an excellent chance of passing in November. Not only did the Michigan effort garner a huge number of signatures, a similar effort in more-conservative Kansas passed by a massive 18 percentage points last month.

If it does, Michigan clinics and hospitals will likely face even greater demand for out-of-state abortion care.

The number of out-of-state patients turning to Planned Parenthood of Michigan for care tripled after Roe v. Wade was overturned,”  Ashlea Phenicie, its director of communications, said in an email Friday. “Patients seeking abortion appointments are now facing 3-4 week wait times. We are working to expand capacity and have increased appointment availability by 30% so far.”

She added, This is an ongoing and worsening crisis. As state after state passes abortion bans, more patients are forced to travel to the limited number of nearby access points. This increases wait times for everyone and delays time-sensitive care.”

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Marty Schladen
Marty Schladen

Marty Schladen has been a reporter for decades, working in Indiana, Texas and other places before returning to his native Ohio to work at The Columbus Dispatch in 2017. He's won state and national journalism awards for investigations into utility regulation, public corruption, the environment, prescription drug spending and other matters.