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Judge blocks prosecutors from enforcing 1931 abortion ban in Michigan


A ruling today means abortion will remain legal in Michigan, at least for now. Michigan Judge Jacob Cunningham says an abortion ban on the state's books cannot be enforced right now. This is a law that dates back to 1931. The judge suggested that not blocking it could be catastrophic.


JACOB CUNNINGHAM: Though the court appreciates both sides of this debate are passionate in their convictions, by not issuing an injunction today, the court would send the health care system into crisis, the extreme costs of which would then be put on the women of our great state.

KELLY: Well, today marks a big victory for abortion rights advocates and for people who'd flock to Michigan from other states that have banned abortion in recent months. There's been a lot of confusion over enforcement of this nearly century-old state law, and the confusion may not end with today's decision, as Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network is here to explain. Hey, Rick.


KELLY: Hi. So I know there are a bunch of legal fights underway in Michigan over abortion. Just situate the significance of this particular case.

PLUTA: Sure. There is actually a different court ruling that says that the state of Michigan cannot file charges against abortion providers. But that's a non-issue because Michigan's Democratic attorney general, Dana Nessel, says that's not going to happen. So this injunction says that, for now at least, local prosecutors, county prosecutors cannot file charges either. And that's despite the fact that some Republican prosecutors say, well, that should be their call.

KELLY: OK. So a lot going on. But, again, just to repeat - for now, abortions will remain available. What has been the reaction today in Michigan to this?

PLUTA: Well, sure. As you would expect, pro-choice groups say that this is great news, even it's just a respite. And those Republican prosecutors - well, they're not happy. Their attorney is David Kallman, and here's what he had to say.

DAVID KALLMAN: I don't know. I mean, the judges ruled. That's their job. That's what he does. You know, he did. We disagree. We're going to appeal. That's the way the process works. We're going to go up the court of appeals.

PLUTA: So next stop, another court. But like I said, pro-choice groups say this is good news. This is Michigan Chief Medical Executive Natasha Bagdasarian, and she says the alternative to this decision is a lot of fear and a lot of confusion.

NATASHA BAGDASARIAN: I think it really chills that sort of doctor-patient private relationship. I'm also concerned about physicians around the state of Michigan under fear of prosecution for actually performing their duty to their patients.

KELLY: Meanwhile, Rick, there's a call for a constitutional amendment. What's going on there? How does that factor in?

PLUTA: So another twist - a petition campaign has submitted 700,000-plus signatures to put a reproductive rights amendment on the November ballot. Today's decision, if it holds up, will keep things as they are until after the November election.

KELLY: OK. And one more twist - the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, is looking for a more definitive answer on all this. She's looking to the state Supreme Court.

PLUTA: That's right. This is actually kind of where this case began, that Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed this case. But one of the things that she asked for was for the Michigan Supreme Court to step in, circumvent the lower courts and take this case right away and rule that abortion rights are already protected under the Michigan Constitution.

KELLY: Lots to keep you busy. Rick Pluta of the Michigan Public Radio Network, thanks.

PLUTA: Oh, you bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rick Pluta
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. His journalism background includes stints with UPI, The Elizabeth (NJ) Daily Journal, The (Pontiac, MI) Oakland Press, and WJR. He is also a lifelong public radio listener.