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Planned Parenthood, doctor file lawsuit to repeal 1931 state abortion ban

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by Allison R. Donahue, Michigan Advance
April 7, 2022

Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan abortion provider Dr. Sarah Wallett filed a lawsuit Thursday in the state’s Court of Claims to block enforcement of the state’s 1931 felony abortion ban, just an hour after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made moves toward securing constitutional access to abortion in Michigan. 

“We believe that the right to access abortion care is already protected in the Michigan Constitution, and we’re asking the court to affirm that through this suit,” said Deborah LaBelle, lead counsel for Planned Parenthood of Michigan. “There is no room for any gray area on the fundamental right to bodily integrity and the ability for every person to decide their futures for themselves.”

Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Wallett, who is the Planned Parenthood of Michigan chief medical officer, are seeking an immediate court order restraining Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel from enforcing the ban.

Nessel, who supports abortion rights, has said that she won’t prosecute women for abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade

Michigan’s 1931 law makes it a felony to provide an abortion and threatens physicians with prison time, but the plaintiffs of this lawsuit argue the law “violates the rights to liberty, bodily integrity, equal protection and privacy under the Michigan Constitution and state civil rights laws, and that the law is unconstitutionally vague.”

Since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that Americans had the constitutional right to access a safe and legal abortion, the state’s 1931 law has not been enforceable. 

But the future of Roe is currently in question as the country awaits a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on aMississippi law banning abortions after 15 weeks, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. That decision could result in the court, which is considered to have the most right-wing tilt in decades, overturning the Roe v. Wadedecision. 

Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Wallett are represented by LaBelle, attorney Mark Brewer of Goodman Acker, P.C., lawyers from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU of Michigan and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School.

“It’s so important that we take steps now to make sure that Michiganders won’t have disruptions in access to abortion care, and that what they relied on for the last 50 years, the ability to access a safe, legal abortion, remains the same without fear of that changing because of what happens at the Supreme Court,” Wallett said in an interview with theAdvance on Wednesday. “Right now, we’re in a really uncertain place where any day potentially a Supreme Court decision could change healthcare dramatically in the state of Michigan.”

Earlier on Thursday, Whitmer filed a lawsuit with the Oakland County Circuit Court seeking to recognize the right to an abortion under the state constitution and to strike down the state’s 1931 abortion ban law. The governor used her executive message power to ask the state Supreme Court to take up the issue, skipping over the lower courts, and to expedite action on this case. 

“I’m excited to hear about anybody who’s taking steps to ensure Michiganders aren’t stripped of their rights to access abortion and I think all of us who care about this issue have been trying to do everything possible to make sure to make sure that happens,” Wallett said. “We don’t want to leave any options not tried.”

Allison R. Donahue is a contributor for Michigan Advance, where this story first appeared.