Wednesday, April 17, 2024

'I consider myself now a defensive player:' Right to Life's Genevieve Marnon on working in a post-Proposal 3 Michigan

February 2, 2023
Michigan residents listen to Christen Pollo introduce Emilia Vriesman at the Right to Life March at the Capitol Building on Jan. 28, 2023.
Michigan residents listen to Christen Pollo introduce Emilia Vriesman at the Right to Life March at the Capitol Building on Jan. 28, 2023. —
Photo by Audrey Richardson | The State News

For almost half a century, leaders of the anti-abortion movement strategized to have the Supreme Court repeal the landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade, so state-based organizations could push their state-based legislation on abortion issues through their state houses.

When Roe v. Wade was lifted on June 24, 2022, anti-abortion organizations like Right to Life of Michigan thought that it had finally found the opportunity to restrict abortion access in its home state.

However, when Proposal 3 passed, Michigan Right to Life leaders said they saw the opportunity for the anti-abortion legislation slip out of their hands.

Legislative Director of Right to Life of Michigan Genevieve Marnon, alongside other Right to Life employees, spearheaded the fight against the passing of this proposal with 20 other anti-abortion advocacy groups across the state.

Genevieve Marnon Courtesy.jpg
Courtesy of Genevieve Marnon

Marnon said that she can't remember a time that she was not an anti-abortion advocate. She was raised during the time of the original Roe v. Wade decision in the Supreme Court and she called herself the kid in middle school who wrote her debate papers on abortion. Her family was also against the Supreme Court decision around Roe, so much so that her mother called her brother the "post-Roe pushback baby" when he was born in 1974.

While she considers herself religious, as many of her other anti-abortion rights cohorts do, she said she never argues from the standpoint of religion.

"I'm a biology major, so to me, this is human life and a full composition of human DNA," Marnon said. "I believe that human beings, all human beings, deserve legal protection and that's what forms my opinion."

With these beliefs, she and other anti-abortion groups began a ballot question committee called "Citizens to Support MI Women and Children," which centered around the education on what Marnon said was the extreme nature of the proposal through massive media campaigns.

“We mounted a very, very, very robust defense against (Proposal) 3 because I think that … the majority of Michiganders want limits on abortion,” Marnon said. “They don't want unlimited unrestricted abortion, which is what (Proposal) 3 has now enshrined in the Michigan Constitution.”

Proposal 3 was passed in the 2022 election, with 56.6% voting in favor of the measure and 43.3% voting against it.

However, Marnon and the group were unsuccessful, which Marnon blames on a financial disadvantage. Reproductive Freedom for All raised more than double the amount Citizens to Support MI Women and Children did.

According to Bridge MI, most of the funds raised were from “dark money” donors, meaning that the pro-abortion rights group did not have to communicate where the money was coming from, keeping their funding anonymous.  

Citizens to Support MI Women and Children spent their entire $16.5 million on the media campaigns Marnon spoke about. Campaign finance reports did show that Right to Life, Marnon's employer, however, did raise more than half of that money the group used for their efforts, while other Catholic organizations raised a large amount of the rest.

Along with the passage of Proposal 3, anti-abortion advocates lost the majority in both chambers of the Michigan legislature. 

While Marnon said that the next goal of anti-abortion leaders is to take back the majority in the state legislature, she emphasized that as legislative director, she does not have as much power in that decision as many would think. She said there is a “stringent wall” between people who work on helping anti-abortion advocates get elected, and her job is to push legislation once they are in their positions. She said that she usually has no idea who is running or being interviewed for endorsement at any time.

With these restrictions, a lot of her job has become harder with no real way to legislate around the constitutional amendment in Michigan at the moment.

However, Marnon does not see her job as moot, but more of a struggle with the need to strategize in the way she described as a "football game."

"We've been playing offense for a long, long time trying to push pro-life legislation in order to eventually bring down Roe," Marnon said. "Now that strategy, because Roe is now gone and now Michigan has Prop 3, that strategy will necessarily change. I consider myself now a defensive player."

Marnon said she would be willing to work across the aisle with Democrats to strategize this "game," but only if they were willing to cut back on the proposal and put up “guardrails.” Marnon is pessimistic about what can happen legislatively in Michigan however, and said there is little to be done to "curtail abortion on demand" throughout a pregnancy.

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Marnon is turning to work centered around an analysis of Proposal 3, looking into the language of “voluntary consent” that surrounds the proposal and how that differs from “informed consent.” Marnon said without a definition, she believes that would be the biggest subject for question.

However, a definition exists for voluntary consent. Voluntary consent is characterized by the fact that the patient is the only one who decides whether to consent to treatment without influence from family, friends or healthcare professionals. 

Marnon also said a repeal of the law that outlines that Medicaid cannot fund abortions could be underway in the state. She said a possible repeal could lead to a lawsuit that would allow for more anti-abortion influence back into state politics. 

For now, Marnon will be working on legislation on the other side of Right to Life’s mission like vulnerable patient laws and supporting pregnant women with pregnancy centers.

Even with a repeal of the 1931 abortion ban being a top priority for the Democratic legislature, Marnon said that the mission of Right to Life has not changed. 

“Our mission remains the same: save unborn lives … and try to change the hearts and minds of society to realize that abortion is not the answer to fill-in-your-blank problem,” Marnon said.

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