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NEW YORK – The bishop of Lansing is calling on Catholics to “fight like heaven” to oppose a pro-abortion amendment to the state’s constitution in a direct response to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s consistent message that she will “fight like hell” for reproductive freedom.
“What does that look like? First, we have to employ the three great spiritual weapons of the Christian life: Prayer, fasting and almsgiving,” said Bishop Earl Boyea in a new pastoral letter read during diocesan Masses this past weekend. “Second comes action.”
The amendment in question is the Reproductive Freedom for All Initiative.
Per the amendment’s text, if passed it will codify the right to an abortion into Michigan law; allow the state to prohibit abortion after fetal viability – the point that a fetus is able to survive outside the womb, which is typically considered to be 24 weeks – unless the procedure is needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health; prohibit the prosecution of anyone who helps a pregnant individual get an abortion; and invalidate all state laws that conflict with this amendment.
The amendment will appear as Proposal 3 on the state’s general election ballots this November. Boyea, citing how the amendment technically allow for abortions up until the point of birth, described it in the letter as “the most extreme abortion proposal this country has ever witnessed.”
Getting to the point where the amendment is even on the ballot has been a political and legal battle between pro-choice advocates and pro-lifers. In a post-Roe U.S. where each state is responsible for its abortion laws, Michigan’s November vote will be one of the earliest referendums on abortion.
Last month, Kansas voters rejected a ballot measure that would have removed protections for access to abortion from the Kansas constitution and given the legislature the right to further restrict or ban abortion. It failed by 18 percentage points, or roughly 165,000 votes statewide.
The Michigan Supreme Court on Sept. 8 voted 5-2 to put the amendment on the fall ballot, settling a back and forth over the amendment a day before the ballot had to be completed. Supporters of the amendment submitted more than 750,000 signatures, easily clearing the minimum threshold, but opponents argued that the petition had improper or lack of spacing between certain words.
A state election board voted along party lines on Aug. 31 on whether or not to include the abortion initiative on the ballot. The 2-2 tie meant the measure wasn’t certified. That vote stood until the Michigan Supreme Court ruling. Michigan Chief Justice Bridget McCormack said in a brief statement accompanying the order that “there is no dispute” that every word was legible and in correct order.
If approved, the amendment would invalidate a 1931 near total ban of abortion on the books.
That law has been subject to its own legal battles since Roe was overturned, preventing it from going into effect. Most recently, Whitmer applauded a Sept. 7 Michigan Court of Claims decision to strike down the law, ruling that it violates the Michigan Constitution. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature can appeal the decision, but all would be for naught if the amendment went into effect.
“I will be using every tool in my toolbox to protect women, nurses and doctors here in Michigan,” Whitmer said after the decision, later echoing her promise to “fight like hell for reproductive freedom.”
Part of the response to the amendment Boyea is employing in the Diocese of Lansing is a 54-day Rosary Novena beginning on Sept. 15, and ending on the eve of polling, Nov. 8, for both laity and clergy.
“This will be 54 days of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in union with the Blessed Virgin Mary who is the Queen of Family, the mother of all mothers and the patroness of the unborn,” Boyea said. As far as the “action” aspect of the response, the bishop wrote that the diocese is cooperating with the Michigan Conference and Right to Life of Michigan to oppose and defeat the ballot proposal. Together, the entities have created an umbrella campaign called Citizens Support for MI Women and Children.
“The most important frontline in this battle for life and love, however, will be the local parish,” Boyea concluded. “It will be you. If each of us does what we can – including prayer, sacrifice and action – we will overcome this attack on life. It’s as dramatic and as simple as that.”
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg