Hundreds gathered at Michigan’s capitol this Tuesday in support of Roe v. Wade and nationwide abortion rights following a leak that all but confirmed the inevitable overturning of the case.
The leak, obtained by Politico, is a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito that includes five justices voting to uphold a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In the opinion dated Feb. 10, 2022, Alito writes, “We hold that Roe and Casey must be overruled. … It is time to heed the Constitution and return the issue of abortion to the people's elected representatives.”
At the moment, abortion remains legal at the federal level.
This decision, currently only a draft based on a preliminary vote held after oral arguments in December 2021, likely foreshadows the Court’s official ruling which is expected to come this summer. This decision would remove the federal protection on abortions that have been in place since the 1973 ruling, and in states like Michigan, make the practice illegal again upon its overturning.
Michigan currently has a law on the books from 1931 which made the practice wholly illegal. While some local authorities have said they wouldn’t enforce the law – such as Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit and Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald – the decades-old act would still become the de facto law in the state.
Before I say anything else--and I'm honestly shook as I'm writing this--I'll reiterate for residents of my county what I've said many times before.
I will never, ever prosecute any provider or patient for abortion in Washtenaw County.
While the leaked opinion represents the first official vote tally on the overturning of Roe, the Court has indicated for months that it would likely overturn the ruling, prompting many Michigan politicians to take preemptive action to protect abortion rights in the state.
In an email circulated from the MSU communications, law professor Mae Kuykendall said the opinion would have been in circulation at the Supreme Court.
“I assume someone wanted Alito and friends to see the reaction before the deed was final,” Kuykendall wrote.
The rally included speakers from Planned Parenthood Michigan, like the Executive Director Nicole Wells Stallworth and Chief Medical Officer Sarah Wallett; and some elected officials like state Sens. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak); Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit); and Adam Hollier (D-Detroit), as well as state Rep. Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Township).
During the start of her speech, Wells Stallworth called Tuesday a “dark day in America,” but that there was something the crowd could do to stop bans from happening.
“I have to tell you that does not have to be the final word,” Stallworth said. “You have to block abortion bans from irreparably harming Michiganders. I can tell you the first thing we need to do is consider who we are electing when we got to the ballot.”
McMorrow emphasized that banning abortions does not eliminate abortion but rather moves pregnant people to look for abortions in dangerous places. She cited that disinfectants used to be advertised to women as a form of birth control.
“Lysol used to be marketed specifically to women for the purpose of contraception and abortion,” McMorrow said. “The reason that it was marketed is because it worked. Women bought it, injected Lysol into themselves to prevent pregnancy.”
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McMorrow said when she heard about the leaked opinion, she said it was a “kick to the damn uterus.”
During the rally, the Michigan organization Reproductive Freedom for All gathered signatures for a ballot initiative that would legalize abortion in the state. They write that the measure would affirm that “all Michiganders have the right to safe and respectful care during birthing, everyone has the right to use temporary or permanent birth control, everyone has the right to continue or end a pregnancy pre-viability, and no one can be punished for having a miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion."
Specifically, this measure would amend the state’s constitution to enshrine these rights in a more durable manner than a simple piece of legislation. Michigan law allows civilian-led initiatives to appear on general election ballots if they are able to gather signatures equal to at least 8% of the votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election – in this cycle, measures need to gather at least 425,059 signatures to appear.
Also speaking at the rally was social relations and policy senior Taylor Belyea. Belyea said that signing the petition was the most important thing that protestors could have done at the rally. She also highlighted that many of the students who showed up to the rally were doing so in the middle of their finals week.
“Activism is critical for this movement,” Belyea said. “We do not only need young people in the fight, but we need you all to support us, to help fight for our future.”
Despite wide conservative support for limiting or outlawing abortion access outright, the overturning of Roe remains unpopular in Michigan. Associated Press reporter David Eggert noted on Tuesday that 70% of Michigan voters said that Roe should be left in place, while 27% said it should be overturned, according to a survey conducted in 2020.
In Michigan, 70% of voters in the 2020 presidential election said the Supreme Court should leave Roe v. Wade as is and 27% said it should overturn the decision, according to AP VoteCast. That was similar to opinions among voters nationwide.
Eggert also noted that 12% overall said that abortion should be made illegal in all cases, meaning that not even a majority of those hoping to overturn Roe would support a full ban on the practice.
Kuykendall wrote about the various concerns associated with limited abortion access.
“States have passed abortion bans with no exception for rape or incest,” she said. “Childbirth has a mortality rate associated with it and, if done in a hospital, is extremely expensive. This is a form of what is called in other contexts an 'unfunded mandate.' It also has a significantly worse impact on Black women, who die in childbirth at a disproportionate rate.”
This sentiment was echoed by several of the speakers at the rally. During Chang’s speech, she highlighted that low-income pregnant people, as well as Black, Latino and Indigenous pregnant people, are most likely to be impacted by the overturning of Roe.
State Sen. Stephanie Chang is now speaking.
“And we know that black people, Latinos, indigenous and other people of color will be disproportionately impacted by the overturning of Roe v Wade. the gap between those with privilege and those without privilege will only get wider.” pic.twitter.com/CMsyQWXRrr
“The gap between those with privilege and those without privilege will only get wider,” Chang said. “There is scientific proof that accessibility to abortion is a major component of women staying out of poverty.”
Chang also said during her speech, starting to cry, that the overturning of Roe would set the clock back nine decades and that the Supreme Court had already made signals about freedoms they may take away from interracial couples and same-sex couples.
There is a bill in the state Senate that would repeal the 1931 law, but with an anti-abortion Republican majority in both state houses, it is unlikely this bill will end up on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s desk to be signed.
About halfway through Belyea’s speech, anti-abortion counter-protesters showed up to the rally, several with MSU’s Protect Life organization. As soon as they arrived, many abortion-rights protesters walked over with umbrellas and large signs and started to block the counter protesters’ signs.
While interactions never became violent between the two sets of protesters, many arguments broke out, cumulating with abortion rights protesters surrounding anti-abortion protesters, shouting, “Pro-life is a lie, you don’t care if women die.”
Human biology sophomore Audrey Whipple threatened to call the police a few times on the abortion rights protesters, though police never came.
Counter protesters have now shown up at the rally.
Whipple said she was out to counter-protest because she wanted to show the protesters “what abortion is” and to advocate for the “unborn children.”
“We’re angry, too,” Whipple said. “These human beings aren’t seen as human. It’s happened over and over in our country where people say, because of your race or because of your sex, you are subhuman. And we believe this is happening again with the unborn.”
Whipple said that she is for abortion but only when it would save the person giving birth. When asked if she supports abortion in cases of rape or incest, Whipple said that she wants to give women “real help” and that difficult situations do not justify the taking of human life.
“Women who have experienced trauma could never kill a human being because of that trauma,” Whipple said.
Leah Monke and Char Panek both attended the rally dressed in a red cloak with a hood as if to be a character in Margaret Atwood’s book “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Panek said that they were dressed up because “The Handmaid’s Tale” is about what the United States might look like if it became a theocracy run by white Christian nationalists, which she believes a majority of anti-abortion activists are.
During her time at MSU, Mohnke was an anti-abortion advocate. She was a part of Protect Life MSU, where she eventually became the treasurer. Mohnke said however that after her time at MSU, she became pro-abortion rights.
Mohnke said that she wanted to do fundraisers for and bring awareness to pregnancy resource centers or to have discussions about options for birth control.
But when she would suggest these ideas, she would be told “no.”
She said that the club leaders would cite their funding from the Republican Party and that the Republican Party did not want to talk about birth control.
“It’s just full of hypocrites who don’t actually care about the issue,” Mohnke said.
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