Two Republican election board officials in Michigan voted Wednesday to bar an abortion rights initiative from the state's November ballot, threatening a proposal that garnered a record-shattering 753,759 signatures from residents this year as reproductive freedoms hang in the balance.
The initiative proposes adding to the state constitution an amendment that reads, in part, "Every individual has a fundamental right to reproductive freedom, which entails 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."
"The vast majority of people want to keep abortion legal in our state. We are not discouraged."
After heated debate on Wednesday, Michigan's four-member Board of State Canvassers—comprised of two Republicans and two Democrats—split along party lines on whether to approve the initiative for November's ballot. At least three votes were required to advance the measure.
Detroit News reported that "most of Wednesday's public comment and debate centered around the lack of spacing between words in the petition circulated by Reproductive Freedom for All."
Tony Daunt, the Republican chairman of the state election board, declared that if what was circulated had come to us for review, it would not have received approval because of the severe defect in the spacing and in the form of the language as it was laid out."
Richard Houskamp, the board's other Republican, agreed, joining Daunt in voting no.
Initiative organizers vowed to appeal the board's deadlocked decision to the Michigan Supreme Court, arguing that the Republican officials' objections really center on the content of the petition—which is beyond their power to adjudicate.
"The two Board of State Canvassers officials who voted against placing Reproductive Freedom for All on the November ballot are disenfranchising the more than 730,000 Michigan voters who signed a petition to put this measure to the people," tweeted the ACLU of Michigan, part of the coalition behind the initiative.
Loren Khogali, ACLU of Michigan's executive director, said in a statement that "we will not allow democracy to be undermined."
"The vast majority of people want to keep abortion legal in our state. We are not discouraged," added Khogali. "Voters, not politicians, have the final say when deciding something as personal as abortion access."
The GOP officials' vote came around two weeks after a Michigan judge temporarily blocked enforcement of a draconian abortion ban originally passed in 1931. For now, abortion is legal in the state with a number of restrictions.
Grecia Lima, national political director of Community Change Action, said in a statement Wednesday that "MAGA Republicans in Michigan are attempting to stand in the way of democracy and stop peoples' voices from being heard."
"More than 750,000 Michiganders—nearly double the number needed to qualify—signed a petition in support of this ballot initiative to protect their freedom to control their own bodies and their own healthcare," Lima continued. "These extremist Republicans know their policies for an abortion ban without exemptions for rape or incest are inhumane and wildly unpopular and they’d have to cheat to win."
Some observers voiced concern that, with Republicans attempting to take over key election posts across the country, anti-democratic votes similar to the one in Michigan on Wednesday could become commonplace.
Daniel Nichanian, editor-in-chief of Bolts, warned that "this is a preview of what could happen in 2022 and 2024 in this state as the Michigan GOP stacks election offices with election deniers."
"Even if the Michigan Supreme Court restores the initiative—a reminder that the majority on this court is on the line this fall," Nichanian observed. "And given that the state's GOP canvassers are willing to ignore basic rules, the court will loom large in 2024."