Right to Life’s petition to ban abortion procedure falls short after signatures challenged

A woman places a carnation on the gravesite of 14 victims of abortion buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield in September 2019. After coming up short of the 340,047 valid signatures needed to advance a ban on “dismemberment abortions” to the Michigan Legislature, the Michigan Values Life Coalition announced it is ending its petition drive and focusing instead on the 2020 election. (Michael Stechschulte | Detroit Catholic)

Duplicate signatures, missing voter registration ultimately imperiled drive, which required more signatures than any prior effort

LANSING — The Michigan Values Life Coalition did not acquire the necessary 340,047 signatures to put a dismemberment abortion ban before the state legislature, according to the Michigan Bureau of Elections.

The coalition submitted 379,419 signatures to the Michigan Bureau of Elections on Dec. 23, but in June, the bureau recommended that the Board of State Canvassers deny the petition, saying enough of the signatures did not qualify to meet the 340,047 threshold. 

The decision followed a review of a 500-signature sample that found duplicate and improper signatures, including some because voters didn’t know where they were registered.

“We know we submitted signatures from more than 340,047 registered voters,” said Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life Michigan. “It is tragic that children will continue to be dismembered because we lost just enough signatures due to errors and petition damage like small tears and stains. Instead of focusing on court challenges regarding the counting process, we will be focusing on the critical 2020 elections moving forward.”

After Right to Life submitting the signatures, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan challenged their validity, something the pro-life group was expecting, according to Genevieve Marion, legislative director of Right to Life Michigan.

After officials found inconsistencies in the 500-signature sample, the Board of State Canvassers allowed the Michigan Values Life Coalition a second chance by asking the board to pull an additional 1,600 signatures to analyze.

The Bureau of Elections was expected to release the results of the second analysis and its recommendation to the Board of State Canvassers on July 21, but Right to Life of Michigan ended the drive before the recommendation was released, based on correspondence from the bureau that it was still short of enough valid signatures, which were based on numbers from Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial election.

“The biggest hurdle was the large turnout in the 2018 election, which increased the number of signatures required,” Listing said. “Our signature total would have been more than required by any previous year in Michigan history. We submitted about 65,000 more signatures than we did in our successful petition drive in 2013 to stop taxes from paying for abortion insurance coverage. It wasn’t enough this time.”

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan told The Detroit News it credited the drive’s failure to the increased threshold.

Listing noted Right to Life Michigan had successfully overcame 17 vetoes to ban tax-funded abortion in Michigan and three court challenges to ban partial-birth abortion. The petition’s language clarified dilation-and-evacuation abortions as partial-birth abortions.

Had the petition succeeded, the legislation would have gone to the Michigan House of Representatives and Senate for approval, bypassing any potential veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer or the ballot in the November general election.

The 2019 petition process began after the Michigan House of Representatives and Michigan Senate each passed its own version of a bill banning “dilation and evacuation” abortions, but neither bill was passed in the opposite chamber and sent to the governor’s desk.

Before the bills were sent to the opposite chamber, Right to Life Michigan elected to start gathering signatures for a citizen-initiated petition drive, wanting to take advantage of the summer months instead of waiting for a likely veto from the governor.

The petition drive, separate from a rival petition from the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition that Right to Life Michigan said potentially confused voters, was supported by various Catholic parishes that had volunteers collecting signatures.

“It goes without saying that after countless hours with myriad people volunteering at hundreds of Catholic parishes across the state to collect signatures that this outcome is disappointing,” said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference. “Each and every person who assisted in this petition drive is cherished and thanked.”

In the face of defeat, Mastee offered a word of encouragement to pro-lifers.

“St. Teresa of Calcutta taught us that God does not require us always to be successful, but rather to be faithful,” Mastee said. “Indeed, the effort to protect human life through this petition drive was immense. Despite this setback, the drive to protect unborn human life will continue in earnest. Women and children deserve better.”