Leaked Supreme Court draft opinion suggests 1973 decision may be overturned, but Michigan's pro-life leaders know the work isn't done
DETROIT — A leaked draft opinion of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision that could potentially overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision drew cautious praise from Catholic and pro-life leaders, but also a reminder that the work continues.
Politico first reported what appears to be a leaked draft majority opinion from Justice Samuel Alito regarding the Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which centers on Mississippi’s ban on abortion after 15 weeks, with the draft suggesting Roe v. Wade and the related 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions are wrong and should be overturned.
Should Roe v. Wade be overturned this summer, Michigan would revert to a 1931 law banning abortion. That law, however, is currently being challenged in court.
“As you are aware, the United States Supreme Court is expected to issue its decision in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case at any time in the next several weeks,” Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron said in a letter that was written before the opinion was leaked but released after the news broke. “This case has the potential to markedly alter the availability of abortion services in the United States. Should the Court overturn Roe v. Wade, the current Michigan law banning abortion will come into effect. However, there is also a proposed ballot initiative that would, if passed, enshrine 'a right to abortion' in our state constitution.”
The petition the archbishop is referring to is the “Michigan Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative,” which abortion-rights advocates are working to place on the November 2022 ballot. Archbishop Vigneron has urged Catholics to fight the effort.
The ballot initiative defines reproductive freedom as “the right to make and effectuate decisions about all matters relating to pregnancy, including but not limited to prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion care, miscarriage management, and infertility care.”
The Michigan Catholic Conference is working with parishes and schools across the state in educating parishioners about the petition drive and encouraging them not to sign it.
"This is a petition drive abortion advocates are looking to use to eliminate restrictions on abortion," David Maluchnik, Director of Communications for the Michigan Catholic Conference, told Detroit Catholic. "We're making sure Catholics are aware of this deceptive petition that's out there. We advocate for Catholics to read the petition and not sign it."
Furthermore, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood filed a series of legal actions in April and used executive authority to ask the Michigan Supreme Court whether the Michigan constitution already protects the right to have an abortion.
Gov. Whitmer’s lawsuit asks the court to recognize a constitutional right to an abortion under the Due Process Clause of the Michigan Constitution and the Michigan Equal Protection Clause.
“I’ll fight like hell to protect abortion access in Michigan,” the governor tweeted May 2.
The Michigan Catholic Conference is partnering with the Alliance Defending Freedom in filing an amicus brief defending the Michigan Constitution's 1931 abortion ban.
"Our attention is laser focused on the governor's efforts in the courts," Maluchnik said. "The Michigan Catholic Conference has requested being an intervener in the case, filing a friend of the court brief to have a visible role in that process as it plays out."
Earlier this year, the archbishop wrote in opposition to the efforts to enshrine abortion in the Michigan Constitution.
“[Abortion] is a symptom of a society that greatly devalues human life and views children as burdens,” the archbishop wrote. “The Holy Spirit was clear through Synod 16 that ‘families today face unprecedented challenges, and for this reason our local church must commit a major portion of her resources to supporting families and helping them live out their call to holiness (Unleash the Gospel, Guidepost 7).
“In other words, when we reject this proposal, and any other efforts in support of abortion, we must simultaneously commit ourselves to creating and supporting clear and realistic alternatives that serve to protect both mother and child," the archbishop said. "It is critical that any pregnant woman considering abortion knows that she has better options available and, most importantly, that she knows the love of Christ as shared through the witness borne by you, me, and all Catholics.”
Some of those “clear and realistic alternatives” the archbishop mentioned were highlighted in a letter from Deacon Fred Billotto, director of evangelical charity for the Archdiocese of Detroit, to priests, deacons and parish and school staff of the archdiocese May 3.
Deacon Billotto's letter emphasized two ministries in particular: Walking with Moms in Need, an archdiocese-wide initiative to help connect mothers and families in need with pregnancies resources, and Project Rachel, a healing ministry for post-abortive mothers and fathers.
“Regardless of what happens in Washington or in Lansing, one thing will remain true: We must continue and expand all our efforts to accompany women and couples who are facing unexpected or difficult pregnancies, and we must always offer our love and mercy to those suffering from abortion,” Deacon Billotto wrote. “Our parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit must strive to offer compassion and mercy alongside concreate assistance to those in need.”
Deacon Billotto’s letter includes information kits for pastors and parishes regarding the Dobbs decision and work parishes can do to become pro-life centers in their communities.
Right to Life Michigan expressed "cautious optimism" in regards to the reported leak, noting that the organization's mission won't change if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned.
"Our mission wouldn't change too much; we would keep fighting for our 1846 abortion law, and we would continue to make sure Michigan stays a life-affirming state if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned," said Anna Visser, director of communications and education for Right to Life Michigan. "We'd have a complete abortion ban in our state, but there are a lot of different moving parts with different groups and with a governor who is trying to invalidate this law. Our focus would be on those efforts and making sure we are fighting against them and have as many people on our side fighting against them as well."
Visser said in a post-Roe Michigan, abortion would be illegal with an exception for when the life of the mother is in danger. Pro-life advocates would continue to defend that law, Visser said, along with providing resources for expecting mothers who need help in carrying out their pregnancies.
"We have our pregnancy resource centers and also our 'safe haven laws,' which allow for infants to be surrendered to a hospital, police station or fire station less than 72 hours after they are born," Visser said. "We have more than 150 pregnancy resource centers that are a great resource on our website for counseling, for information that might inspire women."
Visser warned pro-life advocates to not celebrate too early, considering the official opinion hasn't been released and the final version might not reflect Justice Alito's.
Furthermore, the work of pro-life advocacy goes beyond abortion, she said.
"There are a lot of different issues involved in the pro-life movement," Visser said. "Assisted suicide, infanticide — so we continue to do pro-life work for the unborn, continue to protect them in whatever way we can. But we're also fighting for those causes. As a pro-life organization, we have to protect the vulnerable, the elderly, the disabled, the unborn, and so we always focus on the marginalized and those discriminated against."