With a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion suggesting an imminent overturning of the landmark Roe v Wade decision, a 1931 abortion law in Michigan, described as “draconian,” has come into the limelight.

A repealing of the Roe v Wade decision would have an instant impact on Michigan, where the 1931 law would come into effect immediately, thereby making abortions across the state a criminal offence, with no exceptions for cases of rape, incest or medical emergencies.

Also read | Roe v. Wade: Why Louisiana Republicans seek to call abortion murder

What does the 1931 abortion law say?

Chapter III, section 14 and 15 of Act 328 of 1931 states, “Any person who shall willfully administer to any pregnant woman any medicine, drug, substance or thing whatever…with intent thereby to procure the miscarriage of any such woman…shall be guilty of a felony…”

The aforementioned sections effectively imply that if Roe v Wade were to be overturned, doctors carrying out abortions could be arrested, tried, convicted, and sentenced to prison.

The law has only one exception: abortions carried out to “preserve the life” of a woman are deemed legal under it. All other cases of abortion are considered felonies, and the termination of pregnancies is considered to be manslaughter, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

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Why is the 1931 law deemed ‘draconian’?

While the law does have a provision for legal abortions to save a woman’s life, legal commentators and doctors alike hold that the clause is ambiguous at best, and not interpretable in a practical sense at worse.

According to Dr Lisa Harris, a University of Michigan professor, the ambiguity in the law lies in the question of what is considered a threat to a woman’s life.

If a pregnant woman with a heart condition has a 20% to 30% chance of dying from pregnancy, “..is that enough of a chance?,” Dr Harris said while speaking to Michigan Radio last week.

“I hate to even put it that way, but is that enough of a chance of dying that that person would qualify under Michigan’s ban for a lifesaving abortion? Or would their risk of dying need to be 50% or 100%?,” she further asked, explaining the difficulty in defining a life-saving abortion.

Also read | After meeting Michelle Obama, Lewis Hamilton weighs in on Roe v. Wade

So what will happen if Roe v Wade is overturned?

In the event the Supreme Court overturns the Roe v Wade decision, the law, as per procedure, would come into effect in Michigan.

However, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, along with the  state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, have filed separate lawsuits to block the enforcement of the 1931 law, and to preserve the right to abortion under the state’s own constitution.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has also stated that she will not enforce the law in the state should Roe v Wade be overturned. However, Nessel clarified that the decision is not completely in her hands, saying last week, “I don’t think that I have the authority to tell the duly elected county prosecutors what they can and what they cannot charge.”

Given this fact, barring a court order blocking the enforcement of the law, Michigan could well find itself transported back in time should Roe v Wade be overturned.