Lansing — A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ended a nationwide constitutional right to abortion shook the political landscape in Michigan with Democrats contending the decision will energize their party less than five months ahead of a pivotal midterm election.
In November, Michigan voters will choose whether to keep three Democrats — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson — in the state’s top offices while filling every seat in the Legislature, which is currently controlled by Republicans. Two seats on the seven-member Michigan Supreme Court will also be on the ballot.
Michigan voters should prepare for a “political earthquake” and “sky-high turnout” in the Nov. 8 election, said Richard Czuba, a longtime pollster and founder of the Lansing-based Glengariff Group.
“This is going to be an issue that plays out from top to bottom on the ballot,” Czuba said. “There is no candidate for office who is going to be able to escape telling voters where they stand on this.”
In a May poll that Czuba’s firm did for the Detroit Regional Chamber, Michigan registered voters ranked abortion as their third biggest issue of concern behind inflation and roads.
In the same survey, 59% of participants said they supported leaving in place the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that safeguarded a woman’s ability to have an abortion while 25% wanted the legal right overturned. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
If Democrats can harness the energy on their side of the aisle and keep it going for the next five months, the new ruling could have an impact in November, acknowledged Jenell Leonard, a Republican and owner of the consulting firm Marketing Resource Group in Lansing.
The question will be how suburban women, a crucial voting bloc in Michigan, weigh abortion rights with other issues, like rising consumer prices, Leonard said.
As of now, a Michigan law that ban abortions and dates to the 1840s is not being enforced because of a preliminary injunction issued by a state judge in May. The longstanding policy that dates back to before the Civil War provides an exception for instances where an abortion is “necessary to preserve the life” of the mother.
The November election could directly influence what happens with the law going forward. Abortion rights activists are gathering signatures for a constitutional amendment proposal creating a right to make “all decisions about pregnancy” that could also be on the fall ballot.
Fighting ‘like hell’
Whitmer has been a vocal supporter of abortion rights for years as she’s climbed the political ladder in Lansing. She has vowed to “fight like hell” to protect women’s ability to access abortions.
The abortion-rights advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed her for reelection on Wednesday, saying, “(I)t has never been more critical that we keep Gov. Whitmer in office to fight for the values of the overwhelming majority of Michiganders who believe everybody should have the freedom to decide if, when, and how to start or grow our families.”
Whitmer’s potential Republican opponents for governor have all spoken out against abortion.
“As governor, I will ensure that Michigan is a state that respects the sanctity of life,” businessman Kevin Rinke of Bloomfield Township said Friday.
Another Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores, labeled Friday a “day for celebration” and “a day for action.” She has been endorsed by Right to Life of Michigan, the state’s largest anti-abortion organization.
“Our vision for a just America is one that fosters a culture of life, from womb to grave. One where families can have children — and afford them,” Dixon said.
Tori Sachs, a Republican and executive director of the conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, said Friday’s decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case will help candidates, like Dixon, who’ve been endorsed by Right to Life in the Aug. 2 Republican primary election.
In the November general election, the campaign fights will primarily be about rising prices for consumers, increased crime and education, Sachs argued.
“Republicans will work to stop inflation, let workers, families and seniors keep more of their money, reduce crime and given parents a say in their kids’ education,” Sachs said.
But Adrian Hemond, a Democrat and CEO of the Lansing-based consulting firm Grassroots Midwest, disagreed. He said the political dynamics of the court’s decision are bad for Republicans in Michigan.
“In any race that is competitive between the two parties, this is going to be a huge issue,” Hemond said.
Coming to TV ads
Hemond pointed to a concurring opinion issued on Friday by conservative Justice Clarence Thomas that indicated past decisions protecting access to birth control and same-sex marriage nationally could also be reconsidered.
Rolling back other rights will be “utterly toxic” for Republican candidates, he said.
Whitmer will be able to position herself as the only thing standing between Republicans and people’s birth control, Hemond said.
“You can expect to see the text of this ruling in campaign ads for the next several years,” he said.
A midterm election when a political party holds the White House is usually bad for that party.
However, with Democrat Joe Biden serving as president and his poll numbers struggling, Republicans keep handing Democrats political lifelines, said Czuba, the Michigan pollster.
Asked whether voters will view inflation or abortion as the more significant issue in November, Czuba said inflation is big but the answer wasn’t clear yet.
The case over the constitutionality of Michigan’s longstanding abortion ban could shine a brighter spotlight on the state’s seven-member high court, which has a 4-3 majority of justices nominated by Democrats.
The constitutionality of Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion is likely to be decided by the high court, including its two justices who are up for re-election to eight-year terms.
Whitmer has asked the Supreme Court for an expedited hearing on the law, and an appeal of a state judge’s preliminary injunction against enforcing the century-old law could head to the high court after a decision in the Court of Appeals.
The two justices on the ballot in November are Republican-nominated Justice Brian Zahra, who has been on the court since 2011, and Democrat-nominated Justice Richard Bernstein, who has been on the court since 2015.
Democrats have nominated a woman, state Rep. Kyra Bolden of Southfield, for Zahra’s seat.
Races that involve female candidates running against male candidates could be particularly influenced by the abortion ruling, said Leonard, owner of Marketing Resource Group.
Currently, Michigan Republicans hold slim majorities in the state House and state Senate. The GOP has controlled the Senate for nearly 40 years.
Sen. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, who could be the next the Senate Democratic leader, said her reaction to the abortion ruling on Friday was “profound dismay.”
It was hard to imagine, Brinks said, that her daughters who are in their 20s won’t have the same reproductive freedom that she did.
But Brinks said she was optimistic the decision would mobilize Democratic voters.
“This will drive home how important this really is,” Brinks said of the court ruling’s impact on the coming election.
On the other side of the aisle, Sen. Aric Nesbitt, R-Lawton, who could be the next Senate GOP leader, said ultimately, inflation and record-high gas prices will sink Democrats in November.
Democrats’ fighting for taxpayer funding of abortions and partial-birth abortions “will only marginalize them further,” Nesbitt added.
Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.