Michigan Judge Lifts Barriers to Abortion Access with New Ruling

In a significant victory for reproductive rights advocates, a Michigan judge has issued a preliminary injunction against several restrictive state abortion laws.

The ruling, handed down on Tuesday, halts the enforcement of Michigan’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period before receiving an abortion, as well as the state’s “informed consent” law and a ban on advanced practice clinicians providing abortion care.

The case originated in February when the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of Northland Family Planning Centers and Medical Students for Choice, sought to overturn these existing abortion laws.

Judge Sima Patel, in her 50-page opinion, justified the preliminary injunction by citing Proposal 3, a 2022 ballot measure that enshrined the right to reproductive freedom in Michigan’s constitution.

A visual from an abortion rights protest at Hart Plaza in Detroit in April 2023 underscores the ongoing battle for reproductive rights. A sign reading “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights!” next to a megaphone encapsulates the fervor of advocates.

Judge Patel’s ruling highlighted that Proposal 3’s passage effectively blocks the state from enforcing the 24-hour waiting period, the informed consent laws, and the ban on advanced practice clinicians (APCs) providing abortion care.

Preliminary injunctions, such as this, are court orders preventing a party from continuing practices deemed harmful when a judge believes the plaintiffs are likely to succeed in their legal challenge.

“Turning to whether the challenged laws burden or infringe upon the freedom to make and effectuate decisions about abortion care, the Court finds, on the record currently before it and for purposes of issuing preliminary injunctive relief, that they do,” Patel wrote.

According to reports, Democrats in the Michigan House of Representatives had previously introduced legislation to repeal these restrictive laws, but the efforts fell short of securing enough votes.

Patel’s opinion pointed out that the waiting period creates unnecessary delays for patients, exacerbating burdens such as increased costs, prolonged wait times, and the risk of forced disclosure of their abortion decision.

“The mandatory delay exacerbates the burdens that patients experience seeking abortion care, including by increasing costs, prolonging wait times, increasing the risk that a patient will have to disclose their decision to others, and potentially preventing a patient from having the type of abortion that they prefer,” Patel stated.

The informed consent law required patients to submit a confirmation form after reviewing specific information. Critics argued that this information was often inaccurate and misleading.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) itself acknowledged on its website that it “does not necessarily endorse all the information it is required to make available under this statute.” Patel’s ruling noted that this requirement significantly impacted patients’ decision-making processes.

Notably, Patel did not enjoin all components of the informed consent law. She declined to issue an injunction against the portion requiring providers to determine if patients had been coerced into seeking an abortion.

The ban on advanced practice clinicians providing abortion care was also ruled unconstitutional in light of Proposal 3. Patel noted that APCs offer such care in other states, and the ban unduly limited access to abortion services in Michigan.

Defendants in the case included Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office, which, despite Nessel’s support for abortion access, was obligated to defend the state. A conflict wall was established to ensure an adversarial defense was provided. While Nessel’s office did not oppose the injunction, lawyers represented the state’s position. An inquiry to the Attorney General’s Office about a potential appeal was not immediately answered, but Nessel did express her support for the ruling.

“These provisions only served to delay and mislead patients, which is contradictory to the goals of healthcare,” Nessel said. “We applaud the Court for this decision and remain undeterred in our work to protect reproductive care for all Michigan residents.”

Governor Gretchen Whitmer also praised the preliminary injunction. “By removing these barriers to reproductive health care, we will ensure Michigan is a state where you can make the medical decisions that are best for you and your family in consultation with your doctor,” Whitmer said.

This ruling marks a significant step forward for abortion rights in Michigan, ensuring that reproductive health care can be accessed more freely and without unnecessary legal hurdles.

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