Abortion battle hits Jackson County


Jackson prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka is one of 13 named in a lawsuit filed by Governor Gretchen Whitmer Thursday, April 21.

By Matt Schepeler

The future of abortion in Michigan is uncertain.

The potential rollback of Roe v. Wade at the U.S. Supreme Court is setting the stage for a fierce political battle over abortion here, and Jackson County has become one of the battlegrounds.

Last week Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit to protect abortion in Michigan, even if the U.S. Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade. The defendants in the case are prosecutors in 13 counties with medical clinics that perform abortions, which includes Jackson County.

The lawsuit seeks to prohibit prosecutors from enforcing Michigan law should Roe v. Wade be overturned. A 1931 Michigan statute makes providing abortions a felony. For nearly five decades, the law was rendered moot by Roe v. Wade, but with the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision at risk, Michigan advocates on both sides of the issue are gearing up for a fight. (more below)

The governor filed a legal challenge last Thursday that seeks to strike down the Michigan law that bans abortion except when necessary to save the life of a pregnant woman.

She wants the court to declare that abortion rights are protected by the state constitution. She says this would prohibit local prosecutors from enforcing the 1931 law, which would go back into effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

Michigan Democrats have introduced bills that would repeal the 1931 law, and replace it with one that guarantees access to abortion, but those bills have stalled in the Republican-dominated legislature.

Whitmer has stated, “Since the Legislature is made up of leaders who don’t recognize the constitutional right of women to be full American citizens and have bodily autonomy, it was important for us to use these unique tools to take the issue right to the state Supreme Court.”

Jackson County Prosecutor Jerry Jarzynka, pictured left, and one other prosecutor named in the lawsuit are being defended by the Great Lakes Justice Center. Attorneys there call the lawsuit “a back door attempt to invalidate Michigan’s criminal abortion statute.

When asked if he would prosecute someone who provided an abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned, prosecutor Jarzynka said in a telephone interview “if the law did change, I would look at that statute like I look at any other criminal statute that we have on the books.”

“We would, of course, look at it on a case-by-case basis. There is a process. The police would have to investigate, they would have to gather evidence. At some point they would put together a police report, then they would submit that for warrant review as they would any other criminal case. That would come to the office, and we would have to take a look at it to see if you have the evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Basically, whatever the law is, you would follow.”

While that scenario depends on the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, Jarzynka expressed dismay at the current lawsuit and vowed to defend prosecutors from political pressure.

“The State’s highest compelling interest is to protect life. Moreover, I will vigorously defend the right of all prosecutors to be free from political pressure in charging decisions,” he said. Jarzynka quoted Dr. Martin Luther King, saying “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Whitmer has asked the Michigan Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and take the case right away.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan and Michigan abortion provider Dr. Sarah Wallett also filed a lawsuit last week to block the enforcement of the state’s felony abortion ban under the Michigan Constitution and state civil rights laws.

“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.”

Kathy Potts, the executive director of Right to Life in Jackson, said the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed, in 1997 in the case Mahaffey v. Attorney General, and said there is no abortion right in Michigan’s constitution.

“We are not surprised that Governor Whitmer is attempting to create a right to abortion and invalidate the law from 1931 banning abortion in Michigan, by going directly to the Supreme Court and disregarding the voice of the people in Michigan,” she said in a statement to The Exponent.

Moreover, Potts stressed the importance of the upcoming midterms.

“Elections have consequences, and we hope Michigan citizens realize the gravity of the upcoming elections this year.”

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