State legislators will soon be deciding whether low-income women in Michigan will continue to have the right to obtain statefunded Medicaid abortions. Anti-choice groups throughout the state have gathered the signatures necessary to forcé the state senate and house of representatives to vote on the issue. The govemor will not have veto power over the outcome of this vote. The proposal does not, as many believe, ban all state-funded abortions; only Medicaid and other welfare-related programs would be affected. (The ban world not apply, for example, to workman's compensation claims for state employees.) Therefore, those primarily affected would be low to moderate income women. Over 450,000 signatures have been collected which, though more than the number needed to force the legislature to decide the matter, is representative of only 2% of the state's population. A May article in The Ann Arbor News reported that the signed petitions may be valuable campaign tools for conservative politial candidates, but over the short term, the lists may be effectively used as political leverage by anti-choice organizers to lean on state politicians to vote their way. If the vote to ban state Medicaid abortions is successful a small, but well-organized minority will be having an unproportional influence on the entire state. Many of the signatures were collected in conservative parts of the state, especially western Michigan, where Right to Life has strong support. But even 450,000 signatures may not truly represent what people want. According to prochoice worker Margy Long, abortion foes have misled the public during their petition drive by making it sound as if they want to put the issue before the voters in a statewide referendum. Right to Life's campaign is not for a referendum, but for a closed vote involving only the state politicians - two very different things. Pat Rose of Washtenew County Right to Life says that the organization has in fact been straight forward with people. "They knew actly what they were doing," she said, adding that obtaining the signaturas was much easier than they thought it would be. "We hardly had to go out and solicit signatures," she said, claiming that many people came to them on their own initiative. But the question of deception is secondary to the question of why Right to Life chose the strategy it did. A petition drive to forcé a vote in the legislature takcs more signatures, and is more difficult to explain to people out on the streets, than a drive for a statewide referendum. Why choose the method involving the most work? Pro-choice advocates have indicated that Right to Life knows it would lose if there was a statewide referendum. Whereas the Michigan house and senate are Republican-controlled and stand a good chance of passing the measure when the vote comes up, given their past voting record. But many progressive organizers and politicians feel that the voters, if left to decide, would choose to leave state-funded Medicaid abortions intact. Governor Blanchard has stated that if the proposal were to be worded fairly, voters would approve the issue in a referendum. A referendum drive is exactly the type of campaign that progressives intend to wage if the measure passes the legislature. The vote will take place once the signatures have been validated; validation may take anywhere from 30 to 50 days, perhaps longer. It is not clear whether this willl happen before the legislature's recess in July. Advocates of free choice are encouraging people at this point to learn more about this process. Significant in the debate is the fact that the issue as it stands is being decided by the legislature and 450,000 Michigan residents, comprising a total of 2% of the state's population and 8% of its re-gistered voters. Those that favor freedom of choice are being encouraged to write and cali their legislators and teil them that they do not want a minority of the state's citizens deciding this issue for them.
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