US abortion rights advocates celebrate five-state election sweep | Women’s Rights News

After months of court battles and uncertainty over abortion rights, the US swing state Michigan has passed a ballot measure to write reproductive rights into its constitution.

The measure, part of Tuesday’s midterm elections, effectively restored rights challenged in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that protected abortion access for nearly half a century.

Supporters of the measure, known as Proposition 3 (PDF), gained support, collecting more signatures than any other ballot initiative in state history to put the issue to a vote.

“We saved lives by passing this action in Michigan,” said Darci McConnell, a spokesman for Reproductive Freedom for All, the group that launched Proposition 3.

The measure would also prevent the implementation of a 1931 state law banning abortion unless it was to save a parent’s life. If abortion were banned in Michigan, researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the state’s maternal mortality rate could increase by 25 percent. The rate would be much higher for black women, who already face disproportionately high maternal mortality rates in the United States.

Michigan is one of five states to vote on abortion in the midterms, with all five states voting for abortion.

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Such results are expected in left-leaning states such as California and Vermont, where voters have voted to amend state constitutions to guarantee reproductive rights, including abortion.

But the conservative state has also seen stunning victories for abortion advocates. When the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, it triggered a Kentucky law that immediately banned abortion except in medical emergencies. In addition to the ban, anti-abortion activists have proposed a ballot measure that would amend the Constitution to ban the right to abortion.

Kentucky voters blocked the measure last Tuesday, but abortion remains illegal in Kentucky. A lawsuit challenging the injunction will be heard in Kentucky Superior Court next week.

Montana voters also narrowly rejected a ballot measure that would require health care professionals to take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to protect the life of any live birth.” This would apply to rare cases of live births following miscarriages, usually caused by birth defects or maternal complications. However, infanticide is already illegal in Montana.

Doctors and nurses who fail to provide treatment face felony charges, $50,000 fines and up to 20 years in prison.

The Montana Medical Association opposed the measure, saying it would force clinicians to “provide resuscitation efforts for any infant born with a heartbeat, breathing or movement, regardless of gestational age or medical status.” The association is also concerned that rejected measures would prohibit palliative care in cases of fatal fetal birth defects or viable preterm births.

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In Michigan, a Rust Belt state with a Republican-led legislature and a Democratic governor, doctors have been empowered to perform abortions for nearly 50 years. But that right was suddenly threatened when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

In most cases, the state will reinstate a 1931 law outlawing abortion. But before the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood of Michigan filed a lawsuit asking state courts to declare the 1931 law unconstitutional and block its enforcement.

For several days in August, there was uncertainty over whether abortion was legal during a court row. “Women healthcare providers simply don’t know what legal services to offer our patients,” Detroit-based OB-GYN doctor Gregory Goyert told Al Jazeera.

Doctors like Goyette are forced to consider what to do if a patient bleeds too much.

“The doctor had to say, ‘Okay, how much blood does this patient need to lose before I can provide safe, evidence-based care without risking arrest?'” he said, describing a hypothetical scenario.

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“If the 1931 law banning nearly all abortions goes into effect, there’s no question that Michigan women will immediately begin receiving substandard care.”

The fight over the 1931 law is still going on in Michigan courts.

“The status of these court decisions is indeterminate because the appeal has not yet fully passed the system,” said Steve Ryder, an attorney for the group that launched the Michigan Succeeding Vote initiative. “Meanwhile, voters have approved Proposition 3, and while it doesn’t explicitly repeal the 1931 law that criminalized abortion, it would prevent anyone from enforcing the statute, as it did under Roe.”

When Proposition 3 goes into effect on Dec. 24, “we’ll be back where we’ve been for nearly 50 years,” Ryder said.

“I’m delighted to see that the protections for Roe are now back with us, and our patients have those protections and rights,” Goyert said. He added that Proposition 3 means pregnant women can make decisions together with their healthcare providers “without interference from politicians or the government”.

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