Students, community members, politicians and activists gathered at the University of Michigan Diag for the “Bans Off Our Bodies” rally Saturday afternoon to speak out against the potential overturning of Roe v. Wade. One of around 50 “Bans Off Our Bodies” rallies held Saturday, the protest was held in response to the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion on the pending Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. The decision, if finalized, would reverse 50 years of national legal precedent protecting the right to abortion with minimal government interference and return the issue to individual states.
In the state of Michigan, the overruling of Roe v. Wade could mean the return to a 1931 law that banned all abortions unless to save the pregnant person’s life and made it a felony to perform one in other circumstances. Last month, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit asking the state Supreme Court to strike down this law under the Michigan Constitution’s Due Process and Equal Protection clauses.
With signs reading “Protect safe, legal abortion,” “No forced birth” and “My uterus, my choice” in hand, attendees heard from various speakers on the importance of protecting abortion access in Michigan and nationwide. The chants “Bans off our bodies” and “We support Roe” echoed around the Diag throughout the afternoon.
Katie O’Connor, president of the Albion College chapter of Planned Parenthood Generation Action, expressed her disappointment regarding the potential overruling of Roe v. Wade, but told attendees she remains determined to fight to protect legal abortion. O’Connor emphasized that abortion remains legal in the state of Michigan since Roe v. Wade has not been officially overturned, and encouraged attendees to continue advocating for abortion access.
“I don’t have the words to describe the anger and hurt that I feel,” O’Connor said. “Abortion is still legal in Michigan, and it will not be attacked on our watch without a fight … This week confirms we’re facing the worst-case scenario, which would be disastrous for every person in our country. And that is why we are here today … people in every state across the country in their hometowns, right this minute, (are) rising up to say ‘Bans off our bodies.’”
Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, pointed out in her speech that a ban on legal abortion will disproportionately affect low-income and minority groups.
“The impact of overturning Roe would be largely felt by Black, Latino, indigenous people, immigrants, people living with low incomes and in rural communities,” Stallworth said. “(These groups) have already long felt the impact of lack of access to abortion due to the social determinants of health and discrimination that already exists in our healthcare and criminal justice systems.”
Grey Stone, a board member of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at Eastern Michigan University, spoke to attendees on the importance of including transgender individuals in the conversation and using gender-inclusive language.
“Using gender-inclusive language makes a great difference,” Stone said. “It opens up discussions in safe spaces to more people who are in bodily autonomy jeopardy. Instead of saying woman, you can say people with uteruses or uterus-bearing individuals. We might not all be women, but we all have government officials trying to tell us what we can and cannot do with our bodies.”
Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., also spoke at the rally and said she believes politicians should not be allowed to interfere with people’s decisions about their own bodies, especially politicians who are not elected by the public.
“A woman’s healthcare decision should be made by her, her family and her faith if she wants it, and no government belongs in that room,” Dingell said. “And unelected judges for sure do not belong in that room.”
Sarah Wallett, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of Michigan, also spoke on the personal nature of the decision to have an abortion. She said she believes Michigan’s 1931 abortion ban should not play a role in healthcare decision-making.
“It is unacceptable that basic healthcare like abortion could become illegal in our state, and that physicians like myself could be prosecuted as felons for helping those who have come to us in need,” Wallet said. “… It is unacceptable that physicians would be forced to make decisions based on fear and a 90-year-old law instead of based on science, best practice and the desires of our patients.”
Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., reflected on being involved in a similar fight when she was in college before Roe v. Wade gave people the right to abortion.
“A long time we’ve been out fighting and fighting and fighting,” Stabenow said. “And so this is a moment for those of you who’ve not had to worry about (an abortion ban) before. It’s a moment for those of us who had fought the fight (before) and are back fighting the fight.”
Incoming U-M freshman Abigail O’Connell, a member of the Michigan Organization on Adolescent Sexual Health, said Roe v. Wade is “only the floor” and that more should be done to protect young people when it comes to abortion.
“We must also advocate for the removal of the burdensome barriers for abortion care for young people,” O’Connell said. “This includes eliminating the parental consent mandate for minors to obtain abortions”
Abortion rights supporters at the rally were also encouraged to sign a petition started by Reproductive Freedom for All (RFFA) — a campaign supported by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and Michigan Voices — advocating for an amendment to the Michigan Constitution to protect reproductive freedom and abortion rights. If the petition collects 425,059 signatures, a summary of the amendment will be on the ballot this coming November.
Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist stressed the importance of solidarity in reproductive rights advocacy and said the upcoming elections are a crucial opportunity to affirm the right to abortion access.
“When we all stand together, no power, no hatred, no fear can defeat us,” Gilchrist said. “So when we stand tall in the elections this year, we’re going to do more than win. We will protect democracy. We will protect the right to choose. We will protect the dignity of every person who calls Michigan home.”
Daily Staff Reporter Tina Yu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org