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A $21 Million Anti-Abortion Ad Blitz In Michigan

Oct 10, 2022 Andrew Perez
Polls show strong support for a Michigan abortion-rights ballot measure as conservatives outspend pro-choice groups two to one.
A $21 Million Anti-Abortion Ad Blitz In Michigan
An ad from anti-abortion group Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children.

With Michigan set to vote next month on a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution, anti-abortion forces have recently flooded the airwaves with more than $13 million worth of negative ads — outspending pro-choice groups in the state by nearly two to one. Abortion opponents will spend more than $21 million on TV ads by Election Day, according to advertising data from AdImpact.

Amid the onslaught, the abortion ballot measure’s polling numbers have remained strong, with 62 percent of voters now saying they support Proposal 3, compared to 24 percent who oppose the initiative, according to a new Detroit News survey. Roughly two-thirds of voters say they oppose the Supreme Court's decision to overturn its landmark ruling in Roe v. Wade and invalidate federal protections for abortion rights.

A separate CBS News poll found that 54 percent of likely voters support the Michigan abortion initiative, with 38 percent opposed.

The surveys suggest the August defeat of a conservative Kansas measure that would have eliminated constitutional protections for abortion rights was no outlier. Conservatives’ efforts to limit reproductive access appear to be broadly unpopular in the wake of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling. The massive ad spending by anti-abortion forces in Michigan suggest they’re aware of the situation, and they’re trying to do something about it by throwing millions at the problem.

Unlike in Kansas, where pro-choice groups outspent anti-abortion groups $7.2 million to $6.5 million on TV, conservatives have invested significantly more resources on TV in Michigan than liberal groups.

The stakes are high for the Michigan abortion measure. Abortion is currently legal in the state, though Michigan does have a 1931 abortion ban on the books. While a state judge last month blocked that ban from going into effect, the ballot measure could nix the law for good.

Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children, a coalition led by the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life Michigan, has reserved $21.4 million in TV ads opposing the abortion measure between late August and the election in November. Pro-choice groups are slated to spend $9.4 million on TV.

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One ad from Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children argues the abortion access ballot measure is “too confusing,” would give “unlimited abortion rights,” and “takes away parental consent for abortion.”

Another ad, featuring several women around a table, says, “They write these ballot proposals to be confusing as possible — like that abortion one. What I get out of it loud and clear is that parental consent for abortion, it'll be gone. If my daughter was going through that, I'd want to know. I’d want to be there for her. It's like they're determined to take parents out of kids’ lives. I really think they're trying to trick us into giving up our parental consent. I agree, but they're not tricking me. I'm a ‘no.’ Me too. No way.”

To this point, it’s not clear who’s funding the anti-abortion effort. Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children last reported its finances in late July, at which point it had only raised less than $300,000 and had roughly $67,000 on hand. The group won’t have to disclose its finances again until October 25.

In August, Citizens to Support Michigan Women and Children pushed officials at the Michigan Board of State Canvassers to block the abortion access ballot measure from appearing on Michigan ballots, citing spacing issues in the petition language. The board temporarily blocked the measure from appearing on ballots before the state Supreme Court overturned their decision.

A separate anti-abortion group, called Protect Life Committee Supporting Women and Children, has been canvassing against the measure and distributing flyers claiming that “any ‘health care professional’ could approve or perform abortions, including a school social worker.” The group, which registered in late August, has not yet reported its finances.

The Kansas ballot measure campaign was roiled by a late, unsigned, and misleading text message campaign, which was reportedly directed by a conservative super PAC called Do Right PAC. The texts, which went out to voters across Kansas, gave the impression that a “yes” vote on the measure was the pro-choice position, even though the initiative was designed to end guaranteed abortion access in the state.

“Women in KS are losing their choice on reproductive rights,” said the text campaign. “Voting YES on the Amendment will give women a choice. Vote YES to protect women’s health.”

Do Right PAC was led by former Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who previously chaired the Tea Party caucus in Congress. Huelskamp is a senior advisor to CatholicVote Civic Action, the dark money group that donated the bulk of Do Right PAC’s funding.

As a nonprofit, CatholicVote Civic Action is not required to disclose its donors. However, the organization has received significant funding in recent years from the dark money network helmed by Leonard Leo, the anti-abortion activist who as President Donald Trump’s judicial adviser helped build the conservative Supreme Court supermajority that overturned Roe. Leo’s Concord Fund donated nearly $1.3 million to CatholicVote Civic Action between July 2019 and June 2021.

As The Lever and ProPublica recently reported, Leo last year was the beneficiary of what appears to be the largest political advocacy donation in U.S. history, when surge protector magnate Barre Seid converted his business empire last year into a $1.6 billion donation to a nonprofit led by Leo.

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