PBS and NPR for Southwest Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Michigan's abortion ban is draconian and should be vacated, attorney general says

"I refuse to enforce this draconian law," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said of her state's 1931 ban on abortion. She's seen here in 2020.
David Eggert
"I refuse to enforce this draconian law," Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said of her state's 1931 ban on abortion. She's seen here in 2020.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel says she won't enforce her state's 1931 abortion law — and she's hoping the Michigan Supreme Court finds it unconstitutional, even if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down its Roe v. Wade decision.

"I'm very hopeful," Nessel said on NBC's Meet the Press, that Michigan's Supreme Court will find the right to an abortion is assured by the state constitution's equal protection and due process clauses — "even if the United States Supreme Court decides otherwise."

The state law is 'draconian,' attorney general says

Michigan's 1931 law defined abortion as a felony. It came under attack by its own government last month, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer sued to vacate the ban. The push quickly gained new urgency after a draft opinion leaked that would overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling on abortion rights.

If the Supreme Court overturns its abortion ruling, Michigan's law would again take effect, making it illegal to perform abortions in many circumstances, including in cases of rape and incest. The law also forbids using drugs to induce an abortion.

"I refuse to enforce this draconian law," Nessel said, adding later, "It's a really scary set of circumstances for women here in Michigan."

Nessel says she's concerned it could have a chilling effect on doctors' willingness to perform procedures on people whose pregnancies are no longer viable, out of fear they'd be be exposed to potential charges.

"You won't have basic medical health care that is required for women not to have extreme health problems or even die," she said. "Doctors simply are not going to perform those procedures anymore because they don't want to go to prison for it."

Politicians should stay out of medical decisions, Nessel says

Nessel has spoken out against Michigan's law several times since the draft opinion leaked. She also says she herself underwent a procedure that would likely be considered illegal under the state's law. At the time, she was pregnant with triplets — but they weren't developing as they should.

"And I was told very, very specifically that there was no way that all three would make it to term...But if I aborted one, that it was possible that the other two might live. ...I took my doctor's advice... And you know what? It turned out that he was right. And now I have two beautiful sons."

Republicans' attempts to ban abortion are out of step with what the public wants, Nessel said. A recentPew Research Center pollshowed that about six in 10 Americans favor legal abortion in all or most cases.

She also noted that earlier on Sunday's program, Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, refused to say whether he would sign legislation banning contraceptives, if such a measure were to reach his desk.

"That is not in line at all with how Americans see their rights," Nessel said. "And politicians do not belong in our doctor's offices. They don't belong in our bedrooms, and they should not be making these kinds of decisions on behalf of the American public and on behalf of women across America."

Even if Michigan's high court strikes down the 1931 law, Nessel said, abortion rights should be codified into the state constitution. A petition drive is currently underway in Michigan to put a reproductive rights amendment on the ballot for this November's election.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.