Life Lost in Michigan: The Sad Saga of Proposal 3

Proposal 3 is an amendment to the Michigan State Constitution that enshrines a right to abortion—among a whole boatload of other reproductive “rights.”

How well can you read the following statements?

“DECISIONSABOUTALLMATTERSRELATINGTOPREGNANCY” 
“THEREISASIGNIFICANTLIKELIHOOD”
“OFTHEFETUS’SSUSTAINEDSURVIVALOUTSIDETHE” 
“INCLUDINGBUTNOTLIMITEDTOMISCARRIAGE,STILLBIRTH,ORABORTION”

It’s risky to begin an article with gibberish. However, the above nearly illegible wording is exactly what will appear in the Michigan State Constitution due to the fact that Proposal 3, the so-called “Reproductive Freedom for All” ballot referendum was approved by over two million Michigan voters in the November 8 midterm election. 

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Regardless of Roe v. Wade, Michigan is one of those states with a law banning abortion except for the life of the mother that’s still on the books—a law that stretches all the way back to 1846. In 1931, the Michigan law was updated to conform to modern penal codes—and thus has come to be known as the 1931 ban on abortion—or as abortion advocates call it, the “draconian 1931 ban.” However, this “draconian” statute managed to survive a previous referendum—and this at the height of the sexual revolution and the early growth of radical feminism. The Right to Life of Michigan website explains:

As abortion supporters began their campaign in the 1960s to legalize abortion, they came to Michigan. They were unsuccessful in the Legislature. In the November 1972 election, there was a ballot proposal to legalize abortion in some cases in Michigan. It failed! A super-majority of 60% [of] Michigan voters elected to keep our complete abortion ban intact.

This enormous pro-life victory was short-lived however. Two months later, the United States Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, rendering such state laws unenforceable. Thus, in Michigan, abortion on demand through the 24th week of pregnancy has been legal for decades. Nonetheless, up until November 8, 2022, the Michigan law was there—waiting to be awakened from dormancy should Roe v. Wade ever be reversed—meaning that Michigan was poised to become an “abortion-free” state! 

Pro-abortion forces were mobilized in Michigan, as they anticipated the possibility that a majority of Supreme Court Justices would rule to overturn Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson. In March 2022, Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Michigan Voices launched their petition drive to place their Reproductive Freedom for All referendum on the November ballot. 

They needed a whopping 425,000 valid signatures; and with six other ballot referendum petition drives to compete with, the pool of available petition circulators was seriously spread out. Pro-lifers in Michigan were comforted to know that the RFFA initiative was off to a weak and faltering start. With just over three months to go, there was hope that the RFFA initiative would not meet the July 11 deadline.

Then the bomb fell. On May 2, 2022, Justice Samuel Alito’s written opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson was leaked. Roe v. Wade—the 1973 decision described by Alito as “egregiously wrongly decided from the start”—would be reversed. While pro-lifers celebrated with justified euphoria, that elation was short-lived in Michigan. The leaked Alito opinion solidified the resolve of the RFFA petitioners. Literally millions of dollars poured into the state from very wealthy donors, enabling RFFA to hire an army of circulators—many of whom were paid as much as $26 an hour! 

In a matter of weeks, RFFA raised over ten million dollars. With money to spend and a newfound motivation to defend “a woman’s right to choose,” circulators fanned out all across the state—exploiting every advantage to gain signatures at numerous public events. By the July deadline, they had 773,000 signatures, well over the needed minimum. The RFFA referendum, given the designation “Proposal 3,” would be placed on the midterm election ballot.

Proposal 3 is an amendment to the Michigan State Constitution that enshrines a right to abortion—among a whole boatload of other reproductive “rights.” It is not an exaggeration to say that Proposal 3 represents the broadest, most extreme abortion-related “reproductive rights” liberties in America. It is not an exaggeration to say that Michigan’s Proposal 3 represents the broadest, most extreme abortion-related “reproductive rights” liberties in America.Tweet This

Here is the language itself: 

(1) 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.  

An individual’s right to reproductive freedom shall not be denied, burdened, nor infringed upon unless justified by a compelling state interest achieved by the least restrictive means.  

Notwithstanding the above, the state may regulate the provision of abortion care after fetal viability, provided that in no circumstance shall the state prohibit an abortion that, in the professional judgment of an attending health care professional, is medically indicated to protect the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant individual.  

(2) The state shall not discriminate in the protection or enforcement of this fundamental right.  

(3) The state shall not penalize, prosecute, or otherwise take adverse action against an individual based on their actual, potential, perceived, or alleged pregnancy outcomes, including but not limited to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion. Nor shall the state penalize, prosecute, or otherwise take adverse action against someone for aiding or assisting a pregnant individual in exercising their right to reproductive freedom with their voluntary consent.  

(4) For the purposes of this section:  

A state interest is “compelling” only if it is for the limited purpose of protecting the health of an individual seeking care, consistent with accepted clinical standards of practice and evidence-based medicine, and does not infringe on that individual’s autonomous decision-making.  

“Fetal viability” means: the point in pregnancy when, in the professional judgment of an attending health care professional and based on the particular facts of the case, there is a significant likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures. 

In the space of this article, it is impossible to explain the numerous dangers codified in this amendment. A full analysis may be found here. We only need analyze a few points to demonstrate the extremism of the newfound Michigan right to abortion. First, the amendment states that “every individual has a right to reproductive freedom.” “Every individual”? Such broad, undefined terminology leaves the door wide open to minors obtaining abortions and sterilization without parental consent or notification, currently the law in Michigan. 

Notice that the amendment states that after “fetal viability” abortion may be “regulated”—“regulated” but not restricted or banned—leaving the door open to abortion on demand for the full term of pregnancy. Even if “regulate” means “prohibit,” an exception is made not only for the physical health but also the “mental health of the pregnant individual.” “Mental health” undefined could mean anything. The woman may claim anxiety, depression, feeling burdened by the prospect of having to care for a child, or any number of other issues. 

Moreover, it is the “attending medical professional”—in other words, the very person who is overseeing or even conducting the abortion and whose judgment is unlikely to be unbiased—who makes the judgment. Furthermore, the “attending medical professional” is never identified as a licensed physician—which leaves the possibility that “medical professionals” other than a licensed physician may perform abortions. According to point number 3, immunity is provided to those who perform or aid in the abortion—meaning that if something goes wrong, even the death of the woman, such persons cannot be criminally penalized.

Finally, take a look at the provision regarding fetal viability. The “judgment” of whether a “fetus” about to be aborted is viable is made by “an attending health care professional.” Note that a “fetus” is only deemed viable if the person who is very possibly providing the abortion deems “there is a significant likelihood of the fetus’s sustained survival outside the uterus without the application of extraordinary medical measures.” 

What’s with that? Does this amendment really mean to indicate that the unborn child must be able to sustain his or her existence without “extraordinary medical measures?” Yes, too bad little one—you will have to tough it out on your own without any assistance from a neonatal intensive care unit if there’s any hope you will be spared death by abortion! That’s viability according to the folks promoting Reproductive Freedom for All.  

As soon as RFFA announced its petition drive, pro-lifers all across Michigan sprang into action. Right to Life of Michigan created a website featuring strategies and practical resources. Citizens for a Pro-Life Society, Protect Life Michigan, Pro-Life Michigan, and Michigan LIFESPAN actively attempted to convince Michiganders to not sign the petition with “Decline to Sign” messaging. 

Indeed, several pro-lifers, including this author, “shadowed” RFFA canvassers and, to their great annoyance, explained to people about to sign the petition why they should “decline to sign.” I tried to urge one such woman not to sign by informing her: “If you have a fourteen-year-old daughter, that minor child could get an abortion without you ever knowing about it!” She responded emphatically, “And that would be her right!” I was stunned by her response. I realized then that all that mattered to the other side was the right to kill the unborn, no matter the consequences.

There was, however, a flicker of hope. The reverse side of the petition by law contained the actual language of the proposed amendment to the Michigan State Constitution as provided earlier in this article. Unbelievably, the printer program used by RFFA caused 43 printing errors, with many words of the amendment literally run together—making it at least difficult, if not impossible, for petition-signers to read what it was they supported. Every single RFFA petition contained these errors! 

Genevieve Marnon, the legislative director for Right to Life of Michigan, caught the mistakes you see at the beginning of this article. A complaint was made to the Michigan Board of Canvassers, the agency that approves ballot referendum language. Indeed, the board initially approved the amendment language that the RFFA printer turned into gibberish. 

On August 31st, a public hearing was convened before the BOC panel, made up of two Republicans and two Democrats, to rescind the approval, as the gibberish on the petition would be the very gibberish entered into the Michigan State Constitution. Odd as this may be, by law the nearly unreadable amendment language could not be fixed! Pro-lifers needed a 3 to 1 vote to prevent the petition drive from going forward. A tie would result in the Michigan Supreme Court deciding whether to accept the errors. 

Republican board member Richard Houskamp even commented: “If this was a high school term paper the student would be given an ‘F’! We’re being asked to approve ‘Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’!”  The vote broke along party lines, resulting in a tie. The Michigan Supreme Court, with a majority of justices supporting “a woman’s right to choose,” voted to accept the gibberish into the Michigan Constitution. 

With Proposal 3’s appearance on the November ballot, the war over abortion was in full swing in Michigan. Pro-Lifers had no choice but to fight it. And fight it we did, with every strategy imaginable. Right to Life of Michigan, with support from the Michigan Catholic Conference, the coalition of pro-life groups, and leaders from across the state, sought to raise fifty million dollars—money needed to purchase television ad space. They succeeded in raising $16 million—not enough to counter the nonstop barrage of pro RFFA TV, YouTube, and social media ads purchased with the $43 million donated to support Proposal 3. 

Catholic News Agency, on Nov.7th, reported: “More than two-thirds of this sum, $24 million, has come from New York City and Los Angeles. One hundred individual donors have contributed 98% of the funds for the pro-abortion measure, and $17 million has come from just five donors.” Donors included billionaires George Soros and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 

And while RFFA TV ads were beating pro-life efforts to stop Prop 3, pro-lifers were far outdoing the RFFA when it came to on-the-ground grassroots efforts. Thousands of pro-lifers were engaged in daily outreach to convince voters to vote “no” on Prop 3. No less than 50,000 yards signs were erected all over the state weeks ahead of the election. One could hardly drive 500 feet without seeing another black, white, and red message: “No Proposal 3—Too Confusing, Too Extreme,” as well as a wide variety of other yard signs proclaiming “Vote No!” 

Our group launched statewide banners on overpasses, stating: “Parental Rights Matter—Vote No on Prop 3” and “Abortion Until Birth?!!—Vote No on Prop 3.” Tens of thousands of motorists saw these banners. We were encouraged that the many honks in support of our message far outnumbered the thumbs down and other “fingers” we received. 

Thousands of “Vote No” pamphlets were placed on cars in parking lot blitzes. Phone calls were made, texts sent, and pro-lifers fanned out across the state in intensive door-to-door canvassing, undaunted by the fact that one 84-year-old woman, Joan Jacobson, was shot in the back after knocking on the door of an enraged pro-abortion homeowner. 

And much credit goes to Michigan’s Catholic bishops. They issued a joint letter urging Catholics to get involved to defeat Prop 3. Bishop Earl Boyea, of the Lansing Diocese, was especially strong, issuing a pastoral letter read at every Sunday Mass on the weekend of September 10-11. In the letter, he coined the phrase “Fight Like Heaven” to defeat Proposal 3 in contrast to those who “fight like Hell” for abortion. Nearly every Catholic parish in Michigan posted large “Vote No” banners issued either from Right to Life of Michigan or my group, Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. 

Finally, according to Ed Sarpolus of Target-Insyght, who conducted a telephone exit poll of 800 voters, while the majority of Catholics voted to reelect the pro-abortion governor Gretchen Whitmer, that same majority voted against Proposal 3.

Why did we lose then? The advocates of legal abortion outspent the pro-life movement in Michigan, as already noted. Their media campaign, built on lies, created panic among voters. They lied when claiming RFFA would simply “restore the rights we had under Roe v. Wade.” Prop 3 goes way beyond the practice of abortion in Michigan under Roe. Abortion on demand is permitted in Michigan through the 24th week of pregnancy with, however, several laws that regulate the procedure, laws that protect women and ensure parental consent. Now, however, abortion could be legalized on demand through the full term of pregnancy, and all those regulations in place under Roe may be revoked. 

They lied when it was claimed that if Proposal 3 were to fail, doctors who treat women for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages would be arrested “just for doing their job” as one ad touted. However, all one has to do is look at the legal history of the 1931 Michigan law. No doctors were ever prosecuted for providing such legitimate medical care—none! And women who obtained an illegal abortion were also not prosecuted. However, since Michigan’s 1931 law rightly contains no exceptions for rape and incest, this, too, contributed to the approval of Prop 3.

Finally, in the end, Proposal 3 succeeded because our culture has become used to the violence of abortion. Fifty years of killing under Roe v. Wade is part of what we expect—a killing to which we believe we are entitled. It is not enough that Roe v. Wade is reversed. What also needs to be reversed is the philosophy of Roe, the philosophy that claims human beings are radical individuals. Roe created the most radical individual, the autonomous woman encased in her sphere of “privacy”—that sphere of isolation in which a woman casts others out from human communion.

The executive director of Planned Parenthood in Michigan believes Proposal 3 serves as a blueprint for other states to “regain abortion rights.” What must be done to ensure that such efforts will not prevail? The pro-life movement must convince this culture that abortion is violence against others—against other members of the human family. We must work not only to make abortion illegal but to make it unthinkable. In a state like Michigan, in which the night has fallen, God must show us the path in the darkness. Three words suffice: “Never give up.”

  • Monica Miller

    Monica Miller, Ph.D., is the Director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society. She holds a degree in Theatre Arts from Southern Illinois University and graduate degrees in Theology from Loyola University and Marquette University. She is the author of several books including The Theology of the Passion of the Christ (Alba House) and, most recently, The Authority of Women in the Catholic Church (Emmaus Road) and Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars (St. Benedict Press).

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