Michigan Supreme Court Justice Brian Zahra’s ex-wife told NBC News that Zahra paid for her to have an abortion in the 1980s when the two were dating in college.
Alyssa Jones of Plymouth detailed her experience getting an abortion when she and Zahra were dating in 1983.
Jones told NBC News that she and her then-boyfriend Zahra, who is running for reelection as a Michigan Supreme Court justice, were on the same page at the time and did not discuss any options other than abortion.
“I’m grateful I had a choice, and I think he’s grateful he had a choice,” Jones told NBC. “I never disagreed with it, I didn’t feel like he was strong-arming me. … I do remember talking during the procedure, saying, ‘You know, we just need to finish school, we’re not ready to have a family, we need to finish school.’”
Jones told NBC News she believes her ex-husband has engaged in hypocrisy by opposing the Reproductive Freedom for All proposal going on the ballot known as Proposal 3.
Jones declined to be interviewed Thursday by The Detroit News through a spokeswoman, Emma Thomas, who confirmed Jones’ account to NBC News. Jones told the TV network she hasn’t spoken to Zahra since 1995; they got divorced in 1993. Zahra was appointed to the state Supreme Court in January 2011.
Zahra paid for the abortion and drove Jones to a suburban Detroit clinic where the pregnancy was terminated, Thomas said.
Zahra, who is a Republican-nominated justice, declined to be interviewed. Instead, his campaign team provided a statement that did not confirm or deny Jones’ account to NBC News that Zahra helped her get an abortion when they were in their 20s.
“As a rule of law jurist for more than 27 years, nearly 12 years on the Michigan Supreme Court, I have never allowed my personal opinions or my personal life to cloud my interpretation of law,” Zahra said in the statement. “This is a commitment I have made to Michiganders and one I have not, and will not, break as I continue to serve our state. Because of this, I will not discuss personal matters or political points of view publicly.”
NBC News reported it interviewed Jones in late October and on Tuesday at her home in Plymouth.
Thomas, a director at the Washington, D.C.-based communications firm Feldman Strategies, told The News that Jones reached out to her for assistance in telling her abortion story and that she helped arrange the NBC News interview. Thomas has a background in reproductive rights advocacy, according to her biography.
Zahra and Republican-nominated Justice David Viviano were the only two justices who dissented in the court’s approval of Proposal 3, which would affirm abortion rights in Michigan and nullify the state’s 1931 ban on the procedure. The 1931 law bans abortion in all cases except when it is performed to save the life of the mother.
The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked on putting the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot, preventing it from being put before voters. The committee behind Proposal 3 appealed to the high court. Zahra and Viviano broke with their colleagues by not taking issue with the argument by two GOP Board of State Canvassers members that there was a “severe defect” in the petition because it had insufficient spacing between words on the petition initiative that was circulated for signatures.
“As a wordsmith and a member of Michigan’s court of last resort, a court that routinely scrutinizes in great detail the words used in statutes and constitutional provisions, I find it an unremarkable proposition that spaces between words matter,” Zahra wrote. “Words separated by spaces cease being words or become new words when the spaces between them are removed.”
Zahra said the “intense interest” in the ballot question should not change the state’s elaborate system for petition initiatives. He said he would have held oral arguments over the issue.
Zahra also wrote that his dissent was “not a statement regarding the substance of the proposed amendment, but rather a statement about the presentation of the proposal.”
When GOP-nominated justices have held the majority in the state’s high court in the past two decades, it has allowed technical reasons to prevent proposed measures from making the ballot.
The anti-abortion group Right to Life of Michigan has endorsed Zahra’s re-election to another eight-year term on the high court.
Two lower court judges — Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher and Oakland County Judge Jacob Cunningham — have issued injunctions in cases surrounding the 1931 abortion law that Zahra could play a role in deciding.
Gleicher issued a permanent injunction in September that ruled the ban unconstitutional, which will stop enforcement of the law for the foreseeable future. She ordered that Attorney General Dana Nessel must advise county prosecutors that the state law has been declared unconstitutional.
Cunningham granted a preliminary injunction in a lawsuit brought by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer against 13 county prosecutors.
The 91-year abortion ban has largely lay dormant since U.S. Supreme Court made Roe v. Wade law in 1973, but when justices overturned that landmark ruling in June and sent regulations on abortions back to the states, the legal battles began.
There are now three different requests related to abortion cases before the Michigan Supreme Court.
At the Michigan Democratic Party’s August convention, Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein said the high court will have the final say on Michigan abortion rights, whether it be from the two pending lawsuits challenging the current law or through interpretations of Proposal 3.
Bernstein and Zahra are vying for re-election to two seats on the high court. The other candidates are Republican nominee Paul Hudson, Democratic nominee Kyra Harris Bolden and Libertarian nominee Kerry Lee Morgan.