When the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs Wade in June 2022 and removed the federal provision to protect abortion rights, we saw a wave of frustrated motivation that echoed that of the election of he-who-shall-not-be-named.
Reproductive and women’s rights issues became a top motivator for citizens to elect pro-choice candidates in the midterm elections in November 2022, but with half the US states offering direct democracy mechanisms, citizens are able to take matters in their own hands to ensure their reproductive rights are protected. That was the case in six states that held abortion-related ballot measures - the most on record in a single year. With abortion rights being at the top of voters’ concerns last year, the 2022 midterms led to the 2nd highest voter turnout rate in a US midterm election in decades, second only to the 2018 midterm elections. All six ballot measures led to outcomes that progressed or solidified a women’s right to abortion in that respective state.
Michigan in particular became a national example of what’s possible when citizens mobilize with direct democracy. A citizens’ initiative, Proposal 3, aimed to introduce a state constitutional right to reproductive rights, including abortion, contraception, and other pregnancy-related matters. In terms of language and demands, it was arguably the most progressive abortion-related measure in 2022.
And it was hugely popular. The Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative collected nearly 900,000 signatures within the 180-day window, the most of any initiative in Michigan state history, and nearly double the number of required valid signatures. It also managed to raise over $45 million for the cause, despite a challenge in court filed by a pro-life group to keep the measure off the ballot. The Michigan Supreme Court rejected the challenge and ruled that the initiative was valid, and finally, November 8, Proposal 3 passed with record voter turnout.
Michigan now is a national example, who today has some of the most comprehensive rights for women’s reproductive health in the country. But the fight for women’s rights is not over. A Texas federal judge have decided that highly common and safe abortion pills are to be taken off the market, which could have dire repercussions across the country.
US States are looking towards Michigan on how to safeguard women’s healthcare. But it can also inspire and mobilize people here in Europe to use direct democracy to ensure women’s rights. There is a movement among civil society organizations and activists around a European Citizens’ Initiative on abortion rights. While EU Member States have these rights enshrined, some do not, and they are also at risk of becoming hostile places for women’s healthcare.
The case of Michigan can inspire not only other US states but also EU citizens to use the democratic tools in their toolbox and to look towards the successful campaign strategy of the Michigan Reproductive Freedom For All initiative.