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Michigan Supreme Court orders abortion rights initiative to appear on November ballot

(CNN) — The Michigan Supreme Court ordered Thursday that a citizen-initiative ballot measure seeking to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution be added to the November ballot.

The court’s 5-2 ruling was issued the day before Michigan’s ballot needs to be finalized on Friday.

The order directs the Board of State Canvassers to certify the Reproductive Freedom for All petition as sufficient and eligible for placement on the ballot. This comes after the board had deadlocked on a 2-2 party-line vote on whether to certify the ballot initiative last week, leading Reproductive Freedom for All to ask the Supreme Court to intervene.

The measure will appear on the ballot as Proposal 3, which would establish an “individual right to reproductive freedom, including right to make and carry out all decisions about pregnancy.”

Backers of the amendment say it will block Michigan’s 1931 abortion law, which bans all abortions except to save the mother’s life.

“We are energized and motivated now more than ever to restore the protections that were lost under Roe,” Darci McConnell, Reproductive Freedom for All campaign’s communication director, said in a statement Thursday after the ruling.

“This affirms that more than 730,000 voters read, signed, and understood the petitions,” McConnell added, and that “claims from the opposition are simply designed to distract from our effort to keep the abortion rights we had under Roe for nearly 50 years.”

In its staff report to the board, the Bureau of Elections estimated the petition had 596,379 valid signatures — about 146,000 more than the minimum required for certification.

Opponents, however, have challenged the proposed amendment over the petition’s lack of spacing between words.

In its Thursday order, the state Supreme Court pointed to a 2012 ruling that said the board’s duty with respect to petitions is limited to determining form and content and whether there are enough signatures.

Michigan law requires that petitions have the full text of the amendment after the summary and must be printed in 8-point type.

The court said that “regardless of the existence or extent of the spacing, all of the words remain and they remain in the same order, and it is not disputed that they are printed in 8-point type.”

“In this case, the meaning of the words has not changed by the alleged insufficient spacing between them,” the court wrote. “Assuming that the challengers’ objection to the spacing represents a challenge to the ‘form’ of the petition that the Board properly considered, the petition has fulfilled all statutory form requirements, and the Board thus has a clear legal duty to certify the petition.”

In a concurring opinion, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack criticized the board’s two Republican members, who voted against certification, saying they would “disenfranchise millions of Michiganders.”

“What a sad marker of the times,” she wrote.

Justice David Viviano dissented, writing he would not have found that the petition complied with Michigan law and that the board acted “properly” in declining certification.

“The failure to include the spaces presents the amendment in a manner difficult to read and comprehend. Thus, it may have the right words in the right order—as the majority here suggests—but the lack of critical word spaces renders the remaining text much more difficult to read and comprehend, and therefore something less than the ‘full text’ required by the Constitution and statutes,” he argued.

Justice Brian Zahra also dissented, saying he wished the court had heard oral arguments on the issue. He also called on the legislature to amend Michigan’s election law so that the board would be required to certify the ballot at least six weeks before the ballot needs to be finalized.

Michigan Republicans blasted the decision, along with another on a voting rights ballot proposal. “Despite the court ruling, these measures remain too extreme for Michigan, and we are certain they will be handily defeated at the ballot box in November,” Elizabeth Giannone, deputy communications director for the state party, said in a statement Thursday evening.

Earlier Thursday, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, said the ruling underscores “that the role of the Board of State Canvassers under law is to affirm the will of the voters.”

“I am grateful to the court for affirming this and hope the board now resumes its longstanding practice of working within its authority under Michigan law,” she wrote on Twitter.

The board is scheduled to hold an in-person meeting at 10 a.m. Friday, according to a news release from the Michigan state of secretary’s office.