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Beauty and the beastly practice

National | ABORTION: As was done successfully in California, Michiganders are poised to hand their governor an embarrassing rebuke

Issue: "John Paul II: In memoriam," Oct. 25, 2003

The successful recall of California Gov. Gray Davis may have been the first voter revolt this year, but it likely won't be the last. Next target: Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, the former Canadian beauty queen who vetoed a popular anti-abortion measure on Oct. 10. Pro-life leaders believe the veto could be the governor's undoing-and they don't even have a movie star waiting in the wings.

The vetoed bill, known as the Legal Birth Definition Act, sailed through the state legislature with lopsided margins (74-28 in the House and 25-11 in the Senate). The bill targeted partial-birth abortions by setting a precise, legal definition of a live birth: The moment any part of a baby's anatomy emerged outside its mother's body, the baby would be considered an independent person entitled to all the protections of the law. Theoretically, a doctor who then crushed a baby's skull to complete an abortion could be charged with murder.

The abortion lobby, sensing a major defeat, leaned hard on Ms. Granholm, who received hundreds of thousands of dollars for her 2002 campaign from national abortion groups such as Emily's List. Pro-lifers held their breath for a week after the bill was passed, hoping that big legislative majorities and strong public opinion would persuade the governor to defy her donors and sign the measure.

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Instead, Ms. Granholm, a Roman Catholic who insists she is personally opposed to abortion, objected that the bill was faulty because it failed to provide clear exceptions for a woman's health and because its definition of a live birth could restrict some first-trimester abortions. Calling the issue "one of the most emotional and highly charged of our times," she urged the legislature to work with her in finding other ways to reduce abortions.

Pro-lifers, however, were unmoved by Ms. Granholm's professed reluctance. "This veto is an insult to the overwhelming majority of Michigan citizens who find partial-birth abortion repulsive and indefensible," Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan, said in a statement. "Partial-birth abortion is inhumane and below any form of human dignity. Gov. Granholm should have stood with and for the people in expressing a minimum sense of decency. No doubt she is beholden to the abortion supporters who gave her hundreds of thousands of dollars in last year's campaign."

In the state legislature, lawmakers immediately began discussing the possibility of overriding the governor's veto. With 74 votes in the House,

pro-lifers already had exactly the two-thirds majority that they needed. In the Senate, however, the bill needed one additional vote to override the veto, and some feared that the three Democrats who originally took a

pro-life stance would actually change their vote to avoid embarrassing a governor from their own party.

With the chances for a legislative override looking grim, pro-lifers in Michigan are preparing to challenge the governor in a different way. The state constitution may not allow a recall election like California's, but it does provide Michiganders with an opportunity to override vetoes when the legislature cannot. A so-called "citizen initiative" forces the legislature to vote on any bill petitioned by at least 8 percent of the state's voters. Once the House and Senate approve a petitioned bill, it is considered veto-proof and becomes law whether the governor likes it or not.

The math looks straightforward enough: To bypass Ms. Granholm's veto, pro-life groups need only 300,000 signatures on their petitions -easy enough in a state with a large, well-organized Catholic vote. The legislature has already proved its willingness to confront the governor on partial-birth abortion, so quick passage is almost guaranteed once all the signatures are verified. Ms. Granholm would have no further say in the matter.

Citizen initiatives are rarely used in Michigan, but they're not unheard of. Pro-lifers, in fact, have a good track record with the initiative process. In 1990, then-Gov. James Blanchard, a Democrat, vetoed a parental-consent bill shortly before election time.

Pro-life voters mobilized successfully to petition the bill back before the legislature, then stayed organized long enough to turn Mr. Blanchard out of office that November.

If history repeats, an embarrassing veto override could be the least of Ms. Granholm's concerns.

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