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A 1931 law is central in Michigan's debate over the legality of abortion services


In Michigan, a legal drama is surrounding the question of whether abortion remains legal in the state. A central question is whether an abortion ban adopted in 1931 is enforceable. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta reports.

RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: The old law targets abortion providers, who could face felony charges except to save the life of a pregnant woman. It's considered one of the strictest abortion bans in the country. And Kaylie Hanson, a spokeswoman for Governor Gretchen Whitmer, says this issue needs to be settled.

KAYLIE HANSON: Women are going through a serious lack of clarity. Doctors, health care providers are going through lack of clarity as well as long as there is any uncertainty about this 1931 abortion ban that doesn't even include exceptions for rape and incest.

PLUTA: First, a little backstory - following the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs decision in June, it was expected the 1931 Michigan law would be reactivated. But a state court judge blocked that while a challenge was litigated. That case was dismissed this week on a jurisdictional issue, and that set off a tilt-a-whirl of legal actions. There are 13 local prosecutors with abortion clinics in their counties. Some prosecutors say they're ready to file charges; others say they won't. David Kallman is a prominent Michigan attorney who argues anti-abortion cases. He says local prosecutors should get to decide.

DAVID KALLMAN: There is a valid law that's on the books. County prosecutors around the state, if a case is brought to them and a doctor performs an abortion and it's not to save the life of the mother, then they could be prosecuted for that.

PLUTA: A judge here stepped in yesterday at the behest of Governor Whitmer and issued a temporary restraining order that means abortions are still legal in those 13 counties.

DEBORAH LABELLE: And therefore, services and the provision of abortion is still legal in Michigan.

PLUTA: That's Deborah LaBelle, a lawyer with Planned Parenthood of Michigan, who calls the restraining order welcomed, though temporary, relief. There are still other legal actions pending too - top among them is Governor Whitmer's request that the Michigan Supreme Court take up the case and rule that abortion rights are protected under the state constitution's privacy clause. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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.