LANSING, MI — Today, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan abortion provider Dr. Sarah Wallett filed a lawsuit to block enforcement of the state’s 90-year-old felony abortion ban under the Michigan Constitution and state civil rights laws. Since Roe v. Wade has guaranteed the right to abortion at the federal level, Michigan’s ban has not been enforceable. However, the law was never repealed or blocked by court order, and prosecutors could try to enforce it if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, a possible scenario when it soon rules on a Mississippi abortion ban. This would abruptly cut off access to essential health care for millions of Michiganders.
The 1931 law makes it a felony to provide an abortion and threatens physicians with prison time. Today’s lawsuit argues that the ban violates the rights to liberty, bodily integrity, equal protection, and privacy under the Michigan Constitution and state civil rights laws, and that the law is unconstitutionally vague.
On behalf of themselves and their patients, Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Dr. Wallett are seeking an immediate court order restraining the Michigan Attorney General, in her official capacity as top prosecutor for the state and all county prosecutors, from enforcing the unconstitutional ban against abortion providers. Ultimately, plaintiffs are asking the state courts to affirm the right to abortion under Michigan’s Constitution.
Michigan is one of 26 states that could move to eliminate abortion access if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe, which it could do any day in its impending decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Should that happen, prosecutors could try to enforce Michigan’s felony abortion ban immediately, sending the state back in time and stripping nearly 2.2 million Michiganders of their fundamental right to abortion.
Statement from Dr. Sarah Wallett, plaintiff and chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Michigan:
“I’m an abortion provider, and the care my colleagues and I provide every day to our patients is essential to their ability to lead the lives they choose. I joined this suit because it is fundamental to my oath as a physician to do no harm – and being forced to deny abortion care and violating the basic rights of my patients would cause them immense, irreversible harm. Michiganders deserve to know that the health care they have relied on for 50 years will be there when they need it, no matter what.”
Statement from Deborah LaBelle, lead counsel for Planned Parenthood of Michigan:
“We believe that the right to access abortion care is already protected in the Michigan Constitution, and we’re asking the court to affirm that through this suit. Michiganders have the right to privacy, bodily integrity, and civil rights protections, all of which encompass accessing basic reproductive health care, including abortion. There is no room for any gray area on the fundamental right to bodily integrity and the ability for every person to decide their futures for themselves.”
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“It is terrifying to think that Michiganders could wake up one day without the right to make their own medical decisions, and dedicated health care professionals could be imprisoned for providing essential health care. We don’t have the luxury of complacency. Michigan’s antiquated and unconstitutional pre-Roe abortion ban is far too dangerous to leave on the books. Planned Parenthood has long vowed to do everything in its power to protect access to abortion, and we continue that effort today in Michigan with this lawsuit — to ensure nothing can come between patients and their ability to control their own bodies, lives, and futures.”
Statement from Bonsitu Kitaba, deputy legal director of ACLU of Michigan:
“Abortion is health care and banning or restricting access is racist and sexist. Communities of color already face systemic barriers to accessing health care and will be most impacted by criminalizing abortion. We are doing everything in our power to preserve reproductive freedom in Michigan and ensure that an archaic 1931 state law does not undermine the rights, independence, and progress of women and pregnant people statewide.”
If this outdated and unconstitutional ban is not blocked, it would criminalize essential health care that has been safe and legal for nearly half a century. Not only would this law deny Michiganders their constitutional right to abortion in the state, but it would also effectively eliminate health care access entirely for people who don’t have the time, money, or resources to travel for care. Like all abortion bans, Michigan’s law would disproportionately harm the state’s Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities, people with low incomes, young people, and people in rural areas. Due to systemic discrimination and racism, these communities already face the greatest barriers to health care access.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan and the physician plaintiff are represented by Deborah LaBelle, Mark Brewer of Goodman Acker, P.C., and lawyers from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the ACLU of Michigan, and the Civil Rights Litigation Initiative at the University of Michigan Law School.
Read the full complaint here.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan offers affordable reproductive health care for all people through medical services, education and advocacy. A leading sexual and reproductive health care advocate and provider, we provide medical services and sexuality education via telehealth, app-based care and our health centers. Our mission is to promote healthy communities and the right of all individuals to manage their sexual health by providing health care and education and serving as a strong advocate for reproductive justice.
Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect, and without judgment, striving to create equitable access to health care. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable education and information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that supports the independently incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates operating health centers across the U.S.
The American Civil Liberties Union has been at the forefront of every major civil liberties fight for over 100 years. The ACLU of Michigan, founded in 1959, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public interest organization dedicated to the defense and expansion of civil liberties and civil rights in Michigan. Our work is diverse and far-ranging, including criminal legal reform, seeking equality for the LGBT community, immigration reform, protecting our democracy and voting rights, free speech, eradicating racial and social inequities, and protecting and expanding reproductive rights and freedoms for all.