Cecile Richards, local activists rally crowd of hundreds to #StopTheBans on University Diag

Wednesday, May 22, 2019 - 8:57am

Protestors gather on the Diag to take action against recent restrictive legislation on access to abortion Tuesday evening.

Protestors gather on the Diag to take action against recent restrictive legislation on access to abortion Tuesday evening. Buy this photo
Alexis Rankin/Daily

Tuesday evening, the University of Michigan Diag was packed with hundreds of people protesting the slew of restrictive state abortion laws being passed since the beginning of 2019 and particularly over the past few weeks. The rally, organized primarily by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, was one of over 200 #StopTheBans rallies held across the country Tuesday.

The Ann Arbor rally was projected to be one of, if not the, largest rally held in Michigan. In an email to The Daily, Angela Vasquez-Giroux, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said Planned Parenthood appreciates the support they receive from Ann Arbor and the University’s student body.

“The Ann Arbor community has always been welcoming of Planned Parenthood and, more importantly, our core value of providing compassionate, judgement-free care to anyone who needs it,” Vasquez-Giroux wrote. “We are proud to have their support and to stand with them today.”

Cecile Richards, former president of both the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said there were over 20 rallies held in Michigan alone. Richards was in Ann Arbor to speak at the Ann Arbor Public Library as part of her book tour for her recently released memoir, “Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead.” Richards was the rally’s first speaker.

“I don’t know about you, but I will go to jail before I let this government tell me what I can and cannot do with my own body,” Richards said. “That’s a promise to you.”

Richards helped found and is currently on the leadership board of the women’s political action group Supermajority, which promises a “women’s new deal” addressing issues like the wage gap, maternal mortality and lack of women in government. The group hopes to reach 2 million votes in support of Supermajority’s platform in the 2020 elections. 

“This is a fire that is going to burn a pathway all the way to the White House next year, because we are never going to cede our rights to politicians — not in Washington and not in Lansing, OK?” Richards said.

Lori Carpentier, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, followed Richards with a speech about the importance of maintaining the Democratic political momentum of the 2018 midterm elections. Carpentier said that momentum came from anger toward the 2016 presidential election.

“The morning after Trump was elected — when we were all despairing before we got ourselves up and dusted ourselves off — people said we were crying wolf, that it was never going to be as bad as what we thought, that the economy would be great and all people would prosper,” Carpentier said. “Do you feel prosperous right now? This is what we knew would happen.”

During President Donald Trump’s tenure, he has been able to fill a record number of almost 90 judicial vacancies, appointing judges to lifetime positions including Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Many, including Planned Parenthood of Michigan, hypothesize these abortion bans are being pushed through state congresses in hopes of a constitutional challenge that will make its way to the Supreme Court and overturn Roe v. Wade.

“This is part of a coordinated effort to ban abortion and to force the Supreme Court to take up these bans,” Vasquez-Giroux wrote. “The people pushing these laws want to see SCOTUS overturn Roe v. Wade – they’ve made no secret of the fact that that is their goal, regardless of the harm it causes to people who need care.”

As a result, Richards, Carpentier and other speakers asked attendees to vote, canvas and continue to make people notice their movement after they leave the rally.

“It’s high time we do more than just resist,” Richards said. “It’s time we build the country we want to live in.”

***

On the event’s Facebook page, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan posted a warning to all attendees, stating anti-abortion counter-protesters would also be present at the rally. Planned Parenthood advised attendees not to engage with the “anti-choice protesters.”

“By engaging with the protesters, by even acknowledging that they are important enough to talk to, they gain a certain level of power,” the post stated. “ ... Ignoring these individuals is the best way to take their power away from them.”

The counter-protest was led by Monica Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-Life Society. Miller was arrested in December for the sixth time on account of her picketing in and around reproductive health clinics. She said she has long been an abortion opponent and that she has worked as a professor of theology at Madonna University for 15 years.

“It’s political,”Miller said. “It’s moral. It’s spiritual. I believe the human life is sacred. I believe that each and every human being is made in the image and likeness of God, and we have innate dignity — God-given dignity that doesn’t come from the state. It’s not because I say so. It’s not because I want you. It’s because of who you are, and I’m going to defend that.”

Miller said the practice of abortion is torturous for the fetus and no individual should have the right to inflict that torture on another.

“We wouldn’t do what was done to that unborn child — on our worst day — we would not do it do a dog, ” Miller said. “ ... In fact, if you did it to a dog, you’d be arrested, because it’s wrong, it’s cruel and it’s barbaric and it’s inhumane.”

Miller pointed to one of the many signs her group members were holding and said it depicted a fetus that had undergone a dilation and evacuation, or D&E, abortion procedure, which could become a criminal offense under a bill recently passed by Michigan lawmakers.

“The signs that we have here are unborn children that I personally took out of the trash in Michigan — trash dumpsters behind Michigan abortion clinics,” Miller said.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer publicly announced on social media May 14 her plan to veto the bill and any other bill proposing restrictions on abortion. This legislation comes after Attorney General Dana Nessel announced in April she would not prosecute what may become illegal abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

“The good news is we’ve got three pro-choice women at the top of state office here in Michigan, and we are all absolutely committed to protecting a woman’s right to choose,” Whitmer said to MSNBC in an interview Monday. “And so, my veto pen is ready when they send those bills to my desk.”

However, Tuesday morning a Michigan ballot committee, the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition, announced their initiative to sidestep Whitmer and her veto power by gathering signatures and sending the decision back into Michigan’s Legislature, in which Republicans hold a majority.

The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition’s proposition would ban abortions past a detection of fetal heartbeat, reminiscent of other “heartbeat bills” under dispute in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and Iowa. There is a separate ballot initiative led by Right to Life of Michigan which would independently criminalize D&E abortion procedures should Whitmer veto the bill as she promises to do.

Both ballot initiatives will need approximately 340,000 signatures to be put to a vote in the 2020 elections. At the rally, state Sen. Jeff Irwin, D-Ann Arbor, and state Rep. Donna Lasinski, D-Scio Township, each warned the only way to prevent the passage of those proposals is to vote out the Republican legislators who would allow it to pass, which means getting young people out to vote.

“The anti-abortion lawmakers and extremists leading the charge to ban abortion are a minority,” Vasquez-Giroux wrote. “We showed them that at the polls in November, and we are showing them again here, today.”

In contrast, Miller said she has observed young people today to be more sympathetic to the “tragedy” of abortion than people in her generation. She said they are more willing to listen to her stories, and she believes that, through conversation, she will be able to sway them to her line of thinking.

“Our signs don’t lie,” Miller said.

Jamie and Jessica, who asked not be identified by their last names in the interest of their safety, work as volunteer clinic escorts for the In This Together Project. They protect women entering reproductive health clinics from protests such as the ones for which Miller was arrested. Jessica said Miller’s signs actually do lie.

Jessica, who said she worked in a reproductive clinic before joining the In This Together Project, said the pictures Miller claims were taken in 2010 are probably just repurposed pictures taken in the 1970s when Roe v. Wade was first being decided. Jessica explained there are “stringent” regulations on the cleanup and disposal processes following abortion procedures, and no one legally performing these procedures would put the waste in a public dumpster.

“I can tell you right now, that doesn’t happen,” Jessica said. “It may have happened back in the ’70s or the ’80s. That does not happen now.”

Jamie said the circulation of these photos perpetuates a slanderous representation of reproductive healthcare clinics beyond just their abortion services.

“Bottom line is, anybody in the United States, in the Constitution it is protected that this is a right that you have,” Jamie said. “When (we) not only (have) all the bans that they’re putting on limiting access to abortion, now we also have people who want to access reproductive care, that’s not even abortion services, who are terrified to come to the clinic because they see all of these doctored photos with false information and people out there screaming at them, ‘Mom, mom. Don’t kill me.’”

Miller said her organization has no issue with the other reproductive health services Planned Parenthood offers. In the meantime, though, she said she will continue her fight to defund Planned Parenthood and ban the practice of abortion.

“Honestly, we would go away if Planned Parenthood wanted to just stick to the STDs and the contraception and whatever else they do,” Miller said. “That’s not why we’re here. We’re here because they’re the largest abortion provider in America.”

***

LSA junior Zoey Horowitz said she attended the rally because she is “frustrated” at the government’s handling of abortion laws.

“I just needed to be in a space where other people were having that frustration, but also to hear other people voice my frustration was really cathartic, and to be able to immerse myself in this community of love and support,” Horowitz said.

Horowitz noted there were very few University students present at the rally. Most attendees were Ann Arbor residents or had traveled from different parts of the state. Horowitz acknowledged the lack of students might be because it is summer and there are fewer students on campus, but she said she has seen this same behavior during the academic year as well.

“I think it’s pathetic that we don’t have more activism on this campus,” Horowitz said. “Michigan has this reputation … that it’s the liberalest school out in the Midwest, and it actually is liberal in comparison to the areas out here. But people on this campus don’t do enough, in my personal opinion.”

Many of the speakers at the rally, including both LaShawn Erby of Black Lives Matter Michigan and Nicole Denson, lead organizer for #MuteRKelly Detroit, brought attention to the lack of people of color in attendance.

“Do your organizations in your community look like people like me?” Denson said. “I am not here to shame anyone, but as you see around you, the most marginalized need your help, and if you don’t help us, they will win.”

To end her speech, Denson outlined the grave repercussions which she said would come as a result of that loss.

“We’re running out of time,” she said. “We are losing too many battles. Our bodies are our casualties. Pay attention. Intersectionality is necessary, or white supremacy is inevitable.”

Erby led the crowd in a chant, screaming “Black lives, they matter here.”

“Now look around,” Erby said. “And see how many Black faces you see.”

Erby said Black protesters will not show up to events where they do not feel valued. Erby asked the attendees to consider supporting Black Lives Matter protests and promised her organization will return the favor.

Planned Parenthood patient Jenni Lane explained how the story of her abortion is more palatable than many. She found out her child had health complications and would not live past birth, so she said she made the difficult but medically-advised decision to abort it rather than carrying it to full-term. Lane is a married, white mother who had a planned pregnancy, so she said she tells her story in defense of all other abortions which may not be as accepted.

“We each have a role to play in protecting the right to safe and legal abortion,” Lane said. “We are many. We are people of all ethnicities, races, genders, sexual orientations and attractions, social and economic classes and faiths … none of these groups are more deserving of rights than another.”

LSA sophomore Hayden Troup, member of the Michigan Student Power Network, spoke about his experience trying to gain reproductive health services for his body as someone who identifies as male. Troup said transgender folks don’t receive the necessary education regarding their reproductive health and are, as a result, likely to experience STDs and even unwanted pregnancy.

“When we fight issues like this, we need to be working toward building communities based in compassion and mutual pay-in,” Troup said. “We need to make it so that those with privilege can support those who need help.”

Troup and others urge attendees to be allies with their peers experiencing marginalization.

“These bans should worry everyone, whether they have a uterus or not,” Vasquez-Giroux wrote. “For people who need abortions, these bans mean a political position — not their doctor’s best advice — will determine how they are treated and impact their reproductive future.”

The rally had an intersectional message, but speakers noted their predominantly white crowd. In addition to continuing their activism in the formal political sphere and rallying voters for the 2020 elections, attendees left with one more task: to proactively pursue intersectional feminism, not just passively support it.

“If you’re disgusted by what’s happening right now, you need to reach out to the people around you and find out how you can support them,” Troup said. “You need to reflect on any power and privilege that you may have and how you can use it to uplift the voices of those who are being kept silent still.”