Abortion ballot initiative would also give minors right to gender transition, bishops warn

Election vote ballot box Credit roibu  Shutterstock roibu / Shutterstock.

Michigan’s Catholic bishops warned this week that a proposal to codify abortion in the state — which represents an “immense threat to the dignity of human life” — also would codify a right for minors to seek sterilization and gender transition procedures. 

In an Oct. 10 letter, all seven of Michigan’s Catholic bishops warned that the wording of a proposal that will appear before voters Nov. 8, known as Proposal 3, among other things extends the right to “sterilization” to individuals of any age. 

“[B]ecause the amendment also extends the ‘right to sterilization’ to any individual regardless of age, a minor would be allowed to seek sterilizing drugs or gender-changing procedures, in addition to abortion, without parental knowledge or consent,” the bishops wrote. 

“Let us be clear: If Proposal 3 passes, there would be no real limits on abortion or sterilization procedures in Michigan, outside of an individual’s voluntary consent. And no matter how one feels about abortion, this proposed amendment goes well beyond what was allowed under Roe vs. Wade. The proposal would also change our state constitution, which is much more consequential than any law. We urge you to read the proposed amendment and focus on the language. Words matter, particularly as they relate to constitutional amendments.”

Currently, in Michigan, women can obtain abortions for any reason before viability. After viability, abortion is permitted to save the woman’s life. A near-total ban on abortions, which has been part of Michigan state law since 1931 but is unenforceable under Roe v. Wade, is currently blocked in state court. 

Proposal 3, which has given rise to vigorous opposition from Catholics in the state, would “establish new individual right to reproductive freedom.”

According to the text of the proposal, this includes the “right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy, such as prenatal care, childbirth, postpartum care, contraception, sterilization, abortion, miscarriage management, and infertility; Allow state to regulate abortion after fetal viability, but not prohibit if medically needed to protect a patient’s life or physical or mental health; Forbid state discrimination in enforcement of this right; prohibit prosecution of an individual, or a person helping a pregnant individual, for exercising rights established by this amendment; Invalidate state laws conflicting with this amendment.”

The bishops’ letter explains that the wording of the proposed amendment would repeal existing laws requiring informed consent for abortion and parental consent requirements for teens seeking abortion, as well as repeal existing laws requiring abortion clinics to be licensed and inspected for health and safety reasons. 

Further, the bishops said, the proposal would allow anyone to perform an abortion and prohibit any legal consequences if a woman is harmed; allow for late-term abortions due to an undefined mental health exemption in the proposal; and define viability to apply only to children who can survive without extraordinary medical care. 

“We cannot create a world where abortion is unthinkable without also creating a world in which all families receive the support they need,” the bishops concluded. 

“In addition to opposing Proposal 3, we call for your renewed dedication to supporting women in need who may find themselves involved in difficult pregnancies or crisis situations. With prayer, compassion and material support, the Catholic Church — through its agencies and lay faithful — must be willing to walk with women in need to support them, their children, and their families — before, during, and after pregnancy.”

The Citizens to Support MI Women and Children coalition, which includes the Michigan Catholic Conference, advises pro-life voters to vote no on the amendment. In an Oct. 14 statement shared with CNA, the group expounded on the “dangers hidden in the proposal’s language, including allowing minors to receive puberty-blocking drugs without their parents even knowing.”

“Understand this: if the sponsors of this proposal wanted the ‘individual’ ‘fundamental right’ to reproductive freedom to only apply to adults, they would have written that. They could have used the word ‘adult’ or ‘individual over the age of 18’ in their language; they didn’t. They fully intend for these new rights to apply to an ‘individual’ of any age,” the group said. 

“[I]f the authors of this proposal wanted any of these rights for minors to be conditioned on the consent of their parents, they would have written that. The sponsors of Proposal 3 have a radical agenda, but they are not stupid. They wrote the proposal exactly how they wanted it, and we’re now exposing that agenda for all to see.”

Michigan is not the only state with abortion — and potentially minor gender transition and sterilization — on the ballot in November. In Vermont, abortion is already legal up until birth; but constitutional amendment Article 22, also known as Proposal 5, would enshrine “personal reproductive autonomy” for people of any age. 

The proposal reads: “That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.”

Bishop Christopher Coyne of Burlington, Vermont’s sole diocese, wrote a pastoral letter in September urging his people to vote no on the proposal and instead advance laws that address the underlying reasons why women seek abortions. 

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“Do we really want to enshrine amongst our values something as vague and misguided as a ‘right to personal reproductive freedom?’” Coyne wrote. 

“Should we not instead continue to value first and foremost the right to life of all human beings including the child in the womb? Should we not focus instead on the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” by enacting laws and policies that directly confront the reasons why people choose to have an abortion by creating a ‘culture of life?’”

Vermont Right to Life Committee also urges citizens to vote no.

The Diocese of Burlington’s Respect Life Coordinator, Eileen Haupt, wrote in a recent article that the Vermont proposal lacks protections for children, and that the vague term “personal reproductive autonomy” could open the door to a host of practices including the protection of gender transitions for minors. 

“For most of us, when we think of personal reproductive autonomy, we think of adults, not children. However, no age restrictions appear in the wording of the amendment. It must then be assumed that teens and children may be able to make adult reproductive decisions, such as gender transitions, without parental permission,” Haupt wrote.  

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