Michigan governor asks state's top court to protect abortion rights

April 7 (Reuters) - Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer on Thursday asked the state's top court to recognize the right to abortion under the state constitution ahead of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that could undermine abortion rights nationally.

Whitmer, a Democrat running for re-election in a competitive race this year, joins several other Democratic state leaders who are seeking to codify abortion rights before the Supreme Court's decision expected this spring.

The court's conservative majority has signaled a willingness to overturn or weaken the 1973 Roe v. Wade case that established the right to end a pregnancy before the fetus is viable, around 24 weeks.

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"If Roe is overturned, abortion could become illegal in Michigan in nearly any circumstance — including in cases of rape and incest," Whitmer said in a statement. "That’s why I am filing a lawsuit and using my executive authority to urge the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately resolve whether Michigan's state constitution protects the right to abortion."

Whitmer said it was urgent for the Michigan Supreme Court to block possible enforcement of a 1931 abortion ban that could be triggered to take effect in the absence of Roe's protections.

Michigan is one of nine states with such pre-Roe abortion bans still on the books, which could be reinstated if Roe is overturned, according to The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights advocacy research group.

Planned Parenthood of Michigan also filed a lawsuit on Thursday seeking to block the enforcement of the state's 1931 pre-Roe ban.

Right to Life of Michigan, an anti-abortion group, called Whitmer's move "autocratic."

"Governor Whitmer is asking the Michigan Supreme Court to abuse their power by inventing a non-existing right to unlimited abortion," the group said on Twitter.

New Jersey, Colorado, Vermont and Maryland have passed legislation this year seeking to protect or expand abortion access. read more

Republican-led states have pushed through new abortion restrictions in hopes they will stand if the U.S. Supreme Court rolls back federal abortion rights. This week, Oklahoma's legislature passed a near-total abortion ban that threatens prison time for providers.

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Reporting by Gabriella Borter Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Aurora Ellis

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