Trigger warning: this article contains mentions of sexual assault
An estimated 2,000 people gathered on the Diag on Friday to ‘share space’ and discuss action after the Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade (1973). The Supreme Court voted 6-3 in favor of a Mississippi ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overruling Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992). The decision leaves the right to abortion access to the states, and it is expected that almost half of states will establish a ban on abortions as a result.
The vigil began with Carrie Rheingans — an instructor at the School of Social Work, a member of the Washtenaw County Board of Health and an organizer of the event — asking the crowd if they felt hurt, exhausted and angry. Rheingans then led everyone in a “deliberate scream”, and the Diag was momentarily filled with voices.
The ruling came after Politico released a leaked draft opinion suggesting that the Supreme Court would overrule Roe v. Wade last month. This leaked draft opinion sparked nationwide protests and was condemned by both advocates of abortion rights and Michigan physicians.
In Michigan, a preliminary injunction issued in May on a 1931 ban on all abortions except those that are necessary to save a person’s life will temporarily maintain access to abortions in the state. The injunction currently halts the ban from coming into effect, but it is only temporary, with conservative activists having filed a request last month to have the injunction lifted. In response, a ballot initiative called the Reproductive Freedom for All campaign currently exists in Michigan that would add the right to an abortion to Michigan’s constitution if passed.
Bonsitu Kitaba, Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU of Michigan and an organizer of the vigil, spoke about this ballot initiative to the crowd, claiming that it not only protects access to abortion but also protects a wide range of reproductive healthcare services.
“The Reproductive Freedom for All campaign and ballot initiative is a constitutional amendment that protects every individual’s right to reproductive freedom,” Kitaba said. “And that means your right to make and effectuate decisions related to your pregnancy, whether that be contraception, sterilization, prenatal care, postnatal care, miscarriage management, infertility and abortion care.”
Katie Scott, County Commissioner for District 9 and an organizer of the vigil, addressed the crowd and urged them to act beyond the ballot and donate to the Midwest Access Coalition, an organization that raises funds to help women with travel costs and other costs associated with getting an abortion.
“In Michigan, 87% of our counties have no abortion providers,” Scott said. “What do we do about this? We support organizations like Midwest Access Coalition.”
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Ann Arbor, also spoke, expressing her shock at the decision. Dingell encouraged the crowd to use its energy from the vigil to take action to protect abortion rights.
“We’ve got to put (the energy), that passion, into fighting for what’s right, to fight for women’s health care,” Dingell said. “And remember, that’s what we’ve got to tell people, a woman has the right to make her own decision and control her own body.”
Ann Arbor is considered a “zone of reproductive freedom” after residents of Ann Arbor voted to amend the city’s charter 30 years ago. Under the amendment, if an abortion were to take place within city limits while a state or federal ban on abortions existed, the person who had an abortion, or the healthcare provider, would only be subject to a $5 fine. Additionally, government officials, including the city attorney, are not able to refer cases to any other authority for prosecution.
State Rep. Felisha Brabec, D-Pittsfield, addressed the crowd, saying the overturning was personal for her as a mother of two daughters. She spoke on how this decision has impacted the youth of America.
“It is our 13-year-old’s birthday today, and the conversation we were having today with her was about the rights she had today when she woke up, she no longer has going to bed,” Brabec said. “(My daughter) has less rights than I had, and less rights than my mom had. That has got to change. That is why we are all here.”
Washtenaw County is taking measures to expand protections and suspend the power of the 1931 abortion ban, should it go back into effect. Eli Savit, Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney, lecturer at the University of Michigan Law School and one of the organizers of the vigil, claimed in an interview with The Michigan Daily that, as long as he is in office, no one in Washtenaw County will be prosecuted for providing or receiving abortion care.
“I will be damned if I’m going to spend a single penny or a single second of staff time prosecuting abortion,” Savit said. “It’s unjust, it’ll make things more dangerous, the right to an abortion is, and remains in my view, a fundamental right.”
Savit took the microphone at the vigil, addressing the crowd and encouraging attendees to solidify abortion access in Michigan by signing the ballot initiative that would solidify the right to an abortion into the Michigan constitution.
“Let’s take the power out of the hands of the judges and out of the hands of the prosecutors once and for all,” Savit said. “Amend that constitution and make sure that abortion is protected.”
Following the speaking portion of the vigil, the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) led a march out of the Diag. The march went through Nickels Arcade, down East Liberty Street and ended up in front of the Justice Center, where GEO representatives set up an open mic and allowed people to share their stories and opinion on the decision. People holding signs that read “I have fewer rights than a gun,” “We will not go quietly back to the 1950s,” and “Abortion IS healthcare” blocked cars and disrupted outdoor diners.
Following the leaked draft decision, the University established a task force in charge of outlining resources for those affiliated with the University and to offer guidance to healthcare providers. Interim University President Mary Sue Coleman also pledged to support access to abortion services amongst students in an email sent out to the campus community in reaction to the Supreme Court ruling.
U-M alum Madison Cho, one of the attendees of the vigil, spoke to The Michigan Daily on her hopes for what people will take away from the event.
“I think it’s good to be able to redirect some of that anger and frustration into activism to come out and show the community that there’s allies among us, and that you’re all still going to fight for these rights,” Cho said.
LSA junior Atticus Spicer conveyed hopes that transgender people will be included in the conversation surrounding abortion access and healthcare in an interview with The Daily.
“I feel excluded in some ways, being trans,” Spicer said. “I’ve gotten into arguments already, about how ‘I don’t count’ … I had to explain that I’m capable of getting pregnant still.”
In an interview with The Daily, an attendee who will remain anonymous to protect his privacy said he had been raped in the past, and that his rape resulted in a pregnancy. He claimed that he was able to get an abortion and expressed that those who have not received an abortion should not be controlling abortion access.
“Right now, I feel like a whole bunch of people who will never understand what it’s like to be in the situation (that) I was are trying to tell me how to deal with it,” he said.
Throughout the march, shoppers and passersby stopped what they were doing to express their support for the protestors by clapping and signing petitions, among other actions. Members of the vigil held signs such as “Reproductive Rights are Workers Rights,” “My Body, My Choice” and “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal.” As the night was brought to a close and people continued to express their anger, share their stories and scream into the microphone, they were met with the cheers and support of the crowd that had formed in the street. After the final open-mic contributor, GEO organizers resolved to end by “making some noise,” filling the air with the chant:
“They say go back, we say fight back!”
Summer Managing News Editor Riley Hodder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Summer News Editor Nirali Patel contributed to the reporting of this article.