Government entitlements change minds and human behavior, it seems. Take one away and what happens?
November 8 will be the first time an abortion proposal of any kind has been on a Michigan statewide ballot since a half-century ago. What occurred in 1971-72 that can be compared with where we are today?
An abortion rights proposal that would have dramatically liberalized Michigan’s 1931 law (which prohibited abortion with rare exceptions) was resoundingly defeated in the 1972 general election by a better than 3-2 margin. As everyone knows, that result was abrogated by the famous Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court a few months later, in 1973. How did the 1972 proposal get on the ballot? By petition drive, just like the Proposal 3 that will be decided by the state’s voters beginning as early as when absentee ballots go out on Wednesday (Sept. 28).
What was the major difference between the two major political parties’ approach to trying to liberalize Michigan’s law in 1972 as opposed to today?
IT’S BEEN REVERSED — AN ALMOST TOTAL FLIP. In 1972, it was legislative REPUBLICANS who pushed abortion rights and legislative DEMOCRATS who by and large were in opposition.
Here’s what an aggressive pro-choice abortion rights group (FIFTH ESTATE/Radical Publishing Since 1965) was saying about what legislative Republicans were trying to accomplish in 1971:
“Michigan women will demonstrate in Lansing March 13 for one aspect of our liberation—the right to abortion. Our demands are: free and legal abortion on demand; no forced sterilization; repeal of all existing abortion laws.
“Abortion should be a human right. To a woman who has no choice but to bear children, liberation is no more than a bad joke. When we can control our own fertility, we can each work and plan our future. We will be better able to fight against the other forms of oppression that we encounter. We must be free to govern our own bodies and it is for this basic freedom that we will march in Lansing.
“The Bursley bill (SB 3) for abortion reform will be under consideration by the Michigan Senate when we move on the capitol. It is similar to the New York abortion reform.
“Two reform bills have been defeated in Michigan, but with the growing movement for abortion reform this bill (SB 3) has a slightly better chance of passing.”
Four days later, on March 15, the state House, controlled by Democrats, first took action on SB 3 by trying to refer the bill to the House Committee on Social Services & Corrections, on orders of House Speaker William Ryan, a staunch Roman Catholic Democrat who opposed abortion rights. There were two procedural votes on referring SB 3 to Ryan’s preferred committee. Despite strong opposition from a majority of the House Republican caucus, Ryan’s forces prevailed, 57-41 and 70-30. Democrats opposing abortion constituted heavy majorities on both roll calls. A later motion to discharge the Health & Social Services & Corrections Committee of the bill on March 16 failed. The committee did hold a public hearing on the measure on April 5 and additional hearings on April 7, 8, 12, 13, 14 (two of them), 23, 26, 27, 28 and 30. Still another motion to discharge on June 15 supported mostly by Republicans failed.
Ryan then allowed the bill to be reported out of committee on July 15 but without recommendation that it be passed by the full House, and the bill was immediately TABLED by majority Democrats. No further action on SB 3 occurred in the Legislature for the next 17 months until the end of session, although by that time a petition drive had been launched to put a more ‘extreme’ abortion rights measure on the statewide ballot in November, 1972. That was Proposal 2, an initiative petition to allow physicians to perform abortions upon demand if the period of gestation has not exceeded 20 weeks. It was hammered at the polls, 1,958,265 No votes to 1,270,416 Yes votes (a nearly 60.6%-39.4% defeat).
Today, the partisan configuration of support and opposition to abortion is almost completely reversed. Democrats at all levels, even Roman Catholic Democrats — think Teddy Kennedy and Joe Biden — are totally pro-choice abortion rights. Republicans are equally as unanimous in being pro-life; they never would have supported SB 3 back in 1971. Since then, legislative Democrats in Michigan, when they had majorities in the state House or Senate, never had any need to take any action on abortion in the past half-century because Roe v. Wade made the whole issue moot, and now they don’t control either chamber and couldn’t move any bill even if they wanted to.
One question the survey asked was this: “Michigan law now states that an abortion may be performed by a doctor when continuation of a pregnancy threatens the mother’s life. Should Michigan law be liberalized to permit an abortion in the case of rape or incest or where there is a clear danger to the mental health of the mother, or strong reason to believe the baby will be deformed?” Interestingly, results of this survey were as follows: 76,1% Yes; 15.0% No; and 8.9% Undecided.
But there was also a second question that was asked in the same survey: “Should Michigan’s abortion law be changed to allow a doctor to perform an abortion on any woman for any reason, at her request? ” Results? Only 33.6% Yes; 57.9% No; with 8.5% Undecided. Maybe that should have told the initiative petitioners that their proposal was unlikely to be approved by the state’s voters a year and a half later, because it roughly describes the language of what voters saw on the 1972 ballot. By contrast, the more moderate first question (see above) described language that voters in the 30th Senatorial District might have been approved. By the way, how did voters in the 30th District vote on the November, 1972, ballot proposal? They opposed it by an even heftier margin than it lost statewide.
Predictably, the pro-choice FIFTH ESTATE group mentioned above favored a version of the second question that was eventually what was on the 1972 ballot. Even SB 3, which it had supported when it was before the Legislature, wasn’t really satisfactory for these petitioners, and they said why:
“Let’s take a look at the shortcomings of SB 3. It makes abortion legal IF performed by a licensed physician in a licensed hospital or clinic; IF the woman has been a Michigan resident for 90 days before the abortion; IF the woman is over 18 years of age, unless she has the written consent of her parents.
“All of these restrictions serve to deprive some women of their right to abortion on demand, The licensed physician/hospital requirement insists that the job be done by doctors in hospitals, when it could be shifted to well-trained technicians in special abortion clinics. It overlooks the future development of pills and procedures that would make it possible for women themselves to bring on a safe abortion. (Such methods are now being developed in England.)
“The residency requirement effectively rules out the possibility of women coming from other states to obtain Michigan abortions. The age requirement leaves the choice of abortion up to a young woman’s parents. Legalization must make abortions easily available to all women. There must be no more restrictions on who may receive an abortion.
“It seems that we may get a legal abortion bill this year (EDITOR’S NOTE: they didn’t). But actually, what legislators are most concerned with when they consider a “liberalized” bill is whether it can be of advantage to their political careers. The abortion bill’s chance of passing (the Legislature) would drop sharply during an election year, when cautious senators would refuse to commit themselves on such a ‘hot’ issue.”
But FIFTH ESTATE should have realized that the response in the questionnaire to the first, more moderate version of a ‘liberalized’ law (referred to above) would have been a better path to success in its petition drive. Instead, they incorporated the description of the second question, which the questionnaire’s respondents rejected but which was presented to and rejected by 1972 voters.
So now, Michigan on abortion law is back where it was before the famous Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in early 1973. The statute currently in place is the same 1931 law prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother, even though that has been at least temporarily ruled unconstitutional by a state Court of Claims judge. However, nobody expects this ruling will be the final word.
Pending is a decision by the state Supreme Court on a request by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on whether the 1931 statute should be scuttled. More important, there’s a statewide vote scheduled on an abortion rights constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 general election ballot (Proposal 3).
|“||This proposed constitutional amendment would:
Should this proposal be adopted? 
How did Proposal 3 get on the ballot?
For an initiated constitutional amendment to make it to the ballot in Michigan in 2022, a campaign now must collect 425,059 valid signatures from registered voters. This is equal to 10 percent of the total number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last gubernatorial election.
The “Reproductive Freedom for All” campaign filed a petition in January of this year to put Proposal 3 on the ballot. The campaign submitted 753,759 signatures on July 11 and, after a signature validation process, the state Bureau of Elections said that the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign submitted an estimate of 596,379 valid signatures. Proposal 3 then went to the Board of State Canvassers for consideration.
The campaign opposing the initiative, Citizens to Support MI Women and Children, filed a challenge against the petition, but the Michigan Supreme Court rejected the challenge to the initiative on September 8 and ordered that Proposal 3 would appear on the November 8 ballot.
Proposal 3 is even more strongly pro-abortion rights than the 1972 proposal. Most polls show the state’s voters supporting Proposal 3 by as much as a 70% majority.
But remember what happened in 1972. Stay tuned …