Monday night, the University of Michigan Diag was filled with over 100 voices chanting ‘Yes on three!’ as activists and Ann Arbor community members rallied for Proposal 3, also known as the Reproductive Freedom For All ballot initiative that will appear in the upcoming midterm election.
The Reproductive Freedom For All proposal would amend the Michigan Constitution to enshrine the right to abortion, birth control and other forms of reproductive health care. Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June, access to abortion remains legal in Michigan for the time being under a preliminary injunction blocking a 1931 abortion ban. However, this injunction has already been challenged multiple times and there is no permanent legal protection for abortion in the state.
The event kicked off with speeches from representatives for Promote the Vote — another ballot proposal this November, aimed at increasing voter accessibility — and the Reproductive Freedom For All initiative. Representatives spoke on the urgency of voting in this year’s election to support these ballot proposals and other Democratic politicians.
Shanay Watson-Whittaker, deputy campaign manager for Reproductive Freedom For All, recounted her personal experience of having an abortion for an unplanned pregnancy. She said she was living in a shelter with her siblings at the time and was unable to financially support a child.
“I had to make the decision to terminate my pregnancy because I could not imagine raising a child in that environment,” Watson-Whittaker said. “I could not imagine putting myself through that kind of trauma and putting my family, my siblings through that trauma of raising a child in that environment. So I made that decision. I don’t regret that decision at all because I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t make that decision.”
Watson-Whittaker urged attendees to vote ‘yes’ on Reproductive Freedom For All, which will appear as Proposal 3 on the ballot, and encourage other people in their lives to do the same.
“Speak to your friends and neighbors and your family members about why you support Proposal 3,” Watson-Whittaker said. “Normalize the conversation around reproductive care. Normalize it. Talk to your friends, neighbors and family about it like it’s just a sunny day out here in Michigan.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel was also in attendance Monday evening, as she recounted reading Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” in an English class as a U-M student. Nessel said the novel, which depicts a dystopian world where women are classified as “handmaids” and forced to bear children of high-profile government officials, mirrors the current state of reproductive rights in Michigan.
“It’s not really fiction anymore, is it?” Nessel said. “It’s actually closer to reality because we now have a government that is able to regulate and politicize the bodies of women in a way that they, frankly, don’t regulate or politicize the bodies of men.”
The event was organized by the University’s chapter of College Democrats. LSA senior Vivi Iyer, College Democrats co-chair, told The Michigan Daily there is still uncertainty about abortion access in Michigan, but she is motivated by the support of attendees and other activists fighting for Reproductive Freedom For All.
“It’s encouraging to see so many people backing people who can get pregnant of all ages,” Iyer said. “I have more confidence that Prop 3 will pass.”
Nessel also spoke at the rally about the importance of being politically engaged, especially for students.
“If you haven’t gotten involved and you haven’t been engaged and you don’t vote, you’re not gonna get another chance to bring back your fundamental rights,” Nessel said. “Because once they’re gone, they’re gone and they’re not coming back.”
Nessel will be running for reelection this November and is up against Republican opponent Matthew DePerno. At a ‘Save America’ rally in Warren, Mich., Saturday evening, DePerno criticized Nessel’s views on abortion for being too extreme. Nessel told The Daily that DePerno’s comments mischaracterize her position on abortion and reproductive healthcare in general. She also referenced comments he made about how Griswold v. Connecticut — the Supreme Court case protecting the right to birth control — should be overturned and returned to the states.
“I’m for enshrining the right that we’ve had for 50 years, in this state and in this country into our state constitution,” Nessel said. “Banning birth control — that’s radical. Keeping birth control legal and accessible to all — that’s not a novel idea, that’s something that’s been the law of this state and this country for longer than any student at this school has been alive.”
Washtenaw County Prosecutor Eli Savit, a lecturer at the Law School, also spoke at the rally. Savit recalled the difficulty of certifying Proposal 3 for the ballot due to attempts by some unelected members of the Michigan Board of State Canvassers to deny the proposal because of missing spaces in the petition language.
“A few unelected men on the Board of State Canvassers tried to keep Prop 3 off the ballot because they subjectively did not like the amount of space between the words on the petition,” Savit said. “It was only because the Michigan Supreme Court ordered them to do their job and certify it for the ballot that we’re going to have an opportunity to vote on that.”
Savit has previously said he would not prosecute anyone for receiving or providing an abortion, but told The Michigan Daily this promise is not enough to protect abortion access.
“It’s one thing to say that I’m not going to prosecute it, but we need that law blocked statewide so that nobody can possibly prosecute it and so that reproductive options remain open for everybody,” Savit said. “We need to take these issues once and for all out of the hands of prosecutors, of judges and of politicians.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., spoke to attendees about the changes in women’s rights and reproductive rights she has witnessed over her lifetime.
“We have worked a lifetime to make progress on issues for all women,” Dingell said. “And suddenly, six people have decided that they are going to tell a woman what she can do with her body. That is wrong.”
In an interview with The Daily, Dingell urged young voters to get engaged in the upcoming elections.
“Young people need to know that we need them to engage, that we need them involved in the democratic process,” Dingell said. “I know a lot of young people are outraged, but outrage needs to transform and elections matter.”
Nessel said the passage of the Reproductive Freedom For All amendment would help resolve the uncertainty around abortion access. Nessel pointed to previous and ongoing challenges to efforts to protect abortion in Michigan and emphasized the urgency to pass Proposal 3 this November.
“We have preliminary injunctions in place, but they’re being appealed,” Nessel said. “At any moment now, we could have the Court of Appeals rule that those injunctions should be lifted, and we’re gonna have prosecutors around this state that could — right now — start prosecuting abortion cases. And so Prop 3 is more important than ever, because if — and what I hope is when — Prop 3 passes, then those cases will be mooted out because these rights will be enshrined into our constitution.”
Daily Staff Reporter Samantha Rich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Astrid Code contributed to reporting.