LANSING, Mich. – A judge blocked enforcement of a 1931 Michigan ban on abortion Monday, just hours after the state Court of Appeals said county prosecutors were not covered by a May order and could enforce the prohibition following the fall of Roe v. Wade.
Oakland County Judge Jacob Cunningham stepped in at the request of attorneys representing Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who favors abortion rights.
Cunningham issued a restraining order against prosecutors in counties with abortion providers and scheduled a hearing for Wednesday.
“The legal fight in Michigan continues and this temporary restraining order ensures prosecutors cannot target women or providers in the short term,” said Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat who won't defend the 1931 law, which makes it a crime to perform abortions unless the life of the mother is in danger.
Cunningham's decision came at the end of a remarkable day for both sides of the issue.
In May, weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court threw out its landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion, Judge Elizabeth Gleicher said Michigan’s dormant ban was likely unconstitutional. She signed an injunction, which meant abortion has remained legal even after the Supreme Court decision.
But on Monday, the appeals court said Gleicher's injunction applied only to the attorney general's office, not county prosecutors who handle most crimes.
Republican prosecutors in Kent and Jackson counties said they planned to enforce the abortion ban, meaning that providers could get charged with a felony.
“If a report is presented to this office, we will review it like we do any other report of possible criminal behavior,” Kent County prosecutor Christopher Becker said earlier in the day. “We will make the decision to charge, or not to charge, based on the facts presented in the report and the applicable Michigan law.”
Kent County includes Grand Rapids, the state’s second-largest city.
Meanwhile, seven Democratic prosecutors, including Kym Worthy and Karen McDonald in the Detroit area, have said they will not enforce the 1931 law.
Planned Parenthood of Michigan said it will continue providing abortions.
Total or near total abortion bans are already in effect in the nearby states of Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, with bans expected in roughly half the states.
Earlier this month, abortion rights activists submitted signatures to bring a constitutional amendment before Michigan voters in November that would affirm the right to make pregnancy-related decisions without interference, including abortion and reproductive services such as birth control.
If the amendment passes, it would supersede the 1931 law.
Joey Cappelletti is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.