At the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan conference in Lansing on Tuesday, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said even if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade, she would not prosecute what would then become illegal cases of abortion.
“I will never prosecute a woman or her doctor for making the difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy,” Nessel said.
LSA senior Megan Burns, co-president of Students for Choice at the University of Michigan, and LSA senior Annabelle Luescher, the events coordinator for Students for Choice, attended the conference on behalf of their organization.
“Dana was speaking a lot about things she had done in support of women and in support of women’s rights during her time in her new position as attorney general,” Burns said. “She kind of threw it in there sort of randomly. I think a lot of people were caught off guard.”
Burns said, in her experience, she has never seen such a concrete commitment asserted at a conference. She said conferences are usually a place for speakers to voice their opinions to an understanding audience rather than roll out plans.
“This was a pretty unprecedented event,” Burns said. “It says a lot about her commitment to reproductive rights and protecting women in the state of Michigan.”
Kaylee Tegethoff, Michigan’s state captain for Students for Life of America, serves as the spokesperson for the state’s pro-life student advocates. She believes Nessel’s announcement does little to protect Michiganders.
In an interview with The Daily, Tegethoff said Nessel’s position on abortion prosecution would only serve to confuse local procedure across the state.
“Dana Nessel is our state’s chief law enforcement officer, and when she picks and chooses what laws she wants to enforce, I think that’s a problem,” Tegethoff said. “All Michigan citizens should be concerned about that position, whether you’re young or old, in college or out of college.”
In the event, Roe v. Wade is overturned federally, the legal issue of abortion is delegated to individual states.
“Michigan has a law on the books right now that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned,” Tegethoff said. “I think whether you agree with the law or don’t agree with the law, the attorney general’s job is to enforce the law.”
Luescher said Nessel received the loudest cheers when she justified her decision to selectively enforce state laws by citing her predecessor’s, Bill Schuette’s, choice not to enforce a “single” environmental protection provision over the course of his incumbency.
“I think she knows what she’s saying, and she’s not saying it just to be inflammatory,” Burns said. “She’s not saying it just to make a stance. She’s saying it because she really is convicted by it and she wants to hold to it.”
Luescher said she sees the attorney general’s announcement as an assurance of security for women in Michigan that their rights will not spontaneously disappear if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
“There is this sense that a lot of people had that suddenly this giant turn in the tide occurred,” Luescher said. “Suddenly a lot of people are against reproductive justice or abortion rights and what the attorney general and the whole conference was saying was that ‘no, there are a lot of people supporting this and proactively working on it.’”
Burns believes Nessel’s announcement positions her well for re-election because her young voters strongly support this portion of her platform.
“At the University of Michigan, we have a large community that supports Students for Choice and supports reproductive rights, broadly speaking,” Burns said. “The younger generation is more politically favorable of these policies and Dana Nessel’s stances. I also would say that if we are the ones that are going out to vote in the next election, then I think this is a favorable thing for Dana to say because it speaks to our interest and it speaks to our concerns as young people.”
Tegethoff disagrees. She said there are more pro-life young adults than there have been since the Roe v. Wade ruling. Tegethoff believes these young advocates will eventually eliminate Roe v. Wade.
“Most people are now not saying ‘if Roe v. Wade is overturned,’” Tegethoff said. “It’s now ‘when Roe v. Wade is overturned.’ The when and how of that has yet to be determined, but we do have a pro-life majority on the Supreme Court, and I do think that in the next few years, Roe v. Wade is likely to be overturned.”
Tegethoff said she hopes that, along with a change in abortion law, the United States will alter Americans’ perspective on abortion in general.
“Ultimately, I also hope to see that hearts and minds would change,” Tegethoff said. “I don’t just want abortion to be illegal. I want abortion to be unthinkable. I want women to realize that the unborn is a human being that has value and that we should respect that life.”
Tegethoff said she hopes the law will soon align with her morals and ethics, strengthening the respect Americans have for its authority.
“If we all have disrespect for the law, just think about what the result is,” Tegethoff said. “That’s kind of scary. Pro-life or pro-choice, we can all agree that respect and adherence to the law is important.”
Burns worries that even if the law changes, it will not be adhered to by communities privileged enough to ignore it.
“This is not really a big concern for a lot of students at the University of Michigan because the University is filled with a lot of upper middle-class white students who will always have access to reproductive rights and health care, whether or not it’s criminalized,” Burns said. “That’s not to say that it will be easy moving forward if Roe is overturned, but it is to say that the people that are truly at risk here are low-income, marginalized communities.”
Luescher said Nessel’s plan will benefit marginalized communities such as people of color or low-income.
“Not only is (Nessel’s plan) going to help all women, but it’s going to make sure that low-income women who are already burdened aren’t going to be burdened further by legislative maneuvers that are done, I think, quite carelessly,” Luescher said.
Luescher, Burns and Tegethoff all agree the state legislature will lead the way in how abortion law is implemented in Michigan.
“Whether Roe v. Wade is overturned in the next few years or further on down the road, that’s really just the start of the battle,” Tegethoff said.