On Monday night, the University’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and Students for Choice hosted a panel on reproductive rights called “Can’t Say It? Don’t Legislate It — Issues in Reproductive Justice.”
The groups’ efforts first took root after the state legislature’s lame-duck session in December passed a law that placed many more regulations on abortion clinics.
The name of the event paid homage to an incident in June in which Democratic state Representatives Lisa Brown and Barb Byrum were banned from speaking on the House floor after both saying “vagina” in their protests against the legislation.
The panel included Debbie Dingell, Democratic National Committee member and wife of Congressman John Dingell; Ed Goldman, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Health Management and Policy; and Liz Ratzloff, a representative from Planned Parenthood Associates of Michigan.
The discussion focused on abortion legislation and affordable health-care access.
Dingell said her interest in reproductive rights stems from her endometriosis, a disease in which the uterine lining backs up into the fallopian tubes, which often causes infertility. She said, at the time of her diagnosis, no doctors could give her any answers about her infertility due to a lack of research funding.
“Am I going to have problems later in life?” Dingell said. “No one can answer the question because they don’t spend the money on research for women’s health. And that should bother everybody.”
Dingell said she feels the legislation passed in the lame-duck session is moving backwards from the progress made with Roe v. Wade in 1973.
“No man has the right to tell me what I am going to do with my body,” Dingell said. “What you’ve seen in the legislature — women not being allowed to say words that men say all the time; having men try to tell women what they can do with their bodies; what kind of access to healthcare they are going to have — is quite frankly unacceptable.”
Ratzloff said there is even more legislation in the works that aims to limit women’s reproductive rights.
“(This legislation) made Michigan, unfortunately, a national embarrassment in terms of health care and the way that we view women,” Ratzloff said.
Ratzloff said she hopes newly elected legislators will send the message that women’s health-care rights are an important issue. She believes it is necessary for citizens to speak up against these issues and enact a change, but also that the first step in that change was switching out legislators.
Goldman said a common misconception surrounding abortions is that the doctors who perform them are bad people who don’t care about their patients.
“What if I’m a physician who has a conscience that says I should do abortions?” Goldman said. “Why shouldn’t I be allowed to do that? Why should conscience laws just say if there’s something you don’t want to do, you don’t have to do it?”
Goldman recognized that some people view unborn fetuses as people, and, therefore, abortions as harming another person.
To support his claim, Goldman told the story of a woman who was willing to have a Cesarean section and risk her life in favor of her baby’s if the doctors waited until the fetus was 28 weeks old. The doctors performed the surgery at 24 weeks, and both baby and mother died, he said.
“Ultimately, what the court of appeals said is that we can’t put the rights of the unborn over the rights of the already born,” Goldman said.
Dingell said the most important aspect overall is that women have access to health care for anything they might need, such as breast exams.
“In this country, every person should have access to quality, affordable healthcare,” Dingell said. “I think it’s a right.”
LSA sophomore Jacob Light, chair of the University’s chapter of the ACLU, said attention to these issues is of particular importance given the December legislation and upcoming debates over similar issues.
Carly Manes, president of Students for Choice, said her goal is to educate students on what is really going on in the legislature and how it affects them personally.
“Students don’t realize the implications of legislation that goes on in Michigan,” Manes said. “It’s seen as a very far away, far-reaching concept, but it’s not. A lot of us are students who are still on our parents’ insurance plans, but once we’re not, we don’t have insurance covering our birth control — we don’t have insurance for our abortions. That’s an issue.”
—Follow Danielle Raykhinshteyn on Twitter at @dannierayh.