Faith leaders and activists in Michigan react to Supreme Court's abortion decision

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Faith leaders and activists in metro Detroit reacted to the Supreme Court's historic decision Friday on abortion with a range of views that reflected a contentious debate among the region's various communities.

Michigan's Catholic leaders cheered the ruling, calling it "a cause for joy."

In a statement released shortly after the nation's top court overturned the landmark decisions Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Caseys, the Michigan Catholic Conference released a statement signed by Archbishop of Detroit Allen Vigneron and 10 other Catholic bishops in Michigan from across the state.

Their praise of the court's ruling was shared by anti-abortion activists in Michigan.

Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said in a statement: "The U.S. Supreme Court justices who voted to overrule Roe are on the right side of history today." Listing said she hopes this will help stop what she called the "unjust slaughtering of the innocent in our country."

But others in Michigan faith communities were concerned about the ruling.

"I am pro-choice," the Right Rev. Bonnie Perry, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Michigan, said in a statement. "I support a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body. The teaching in the Episcopal Church since 1967 explicitly supports a woman’s right to determine if and when she will decide to have a child."

Perry added that while she opposes government restrictions on abortion, it should be a rare practice.

"I believe abortion should be safe, accessible, and rare," Perry said. "I believe it should be medically informed and not legislatively dictated, or judicially restricted. I write this as a person of deep faith and love for Jesus Christ."

Related: Whitmer reacts to Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade: 'A sad day for America'

The ruling: Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, leaving abortion questions for millions in Michigan

More: Abortion access in Michigan after Roe v. Wade overturned: What we know

The Michigan Catholic Conference, which is the public voice of the Catholic Church in the state, said the court's decision was a "momentous and historic ruling."

The 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling "has resulted in the tragic loss of some 63 million unborn children nationally and more than 1.5 million children in Michigan," the Michigan Catholic Conference said.

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron speaks to parishioners during an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit on Feb. 17, 2021.
Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron speaks to parishioners during an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Aloysius Church in downtown Detroit on Feb. 17, 2021.

"Nearly fifty years after the unjust decision in Roe v. Wade, our country draws closer to a society that recognizes the God-given right of life for all persons, at any stage or in any condition," the 11 Catholic bishops in Michigan wrote. "While today’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that overturns Roe is a cause for joy, we must remember that life is and always will be a gift from our Creator; it cannot be given or taken by governmental structures, judges, or elected officials."

Related: Michigan doctor's mom died during childbirth after she couldn't get an abortion

There are up to 2 million Catholics in Michigan. While Catholic leaders express strict views on abortion, the views of lay Catholics vary, according to surveys. Other religions and denominations in Michigan have different views on abortion.

"I've been working to defend unborn children all of my adult life," Monica Migliorino Miller, director of Citizens for a Pro-life Society, a group based in South Lyon, told the Free Press. "I'm stunned that in my lifetime this law of Roe V. Wade ... has been overturned. So I have joy ... and tears."

Miller added: "I feel overwhelmed. It's almost as if I can't really completely absorb the significance of what has just happened."

Miller said anti-abortion activists were planning rallies Friday outside Planned Parenthood centers in Livonia and Ann Arbor and outside the Capitol building in Lansing.

In their statement, the Catholic bishops thanked anti-abortion advocates and said they are committed to upholding the court's decision in Michigan. Catholic leaders are battling Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in the courts about a 1931 state law in Michigan restricting most abortions that could go into effect.

"Today’s momentous decision would not have occurred without fifty years of prayer, action and witness from innumerable women and men who promote the sanctity of human life," the bishops said. "These people of goodwill laid the foundation for a future of love, compassion, and support toward women and their unborn or newborn children. Though Roe is no longer relevant to abortion policy, we must remain vigilant against future attempts to promote abortion as help for women, which in reality are attacks on human life itself. Some of those attacks have already started here in Michigan through the legislative process, at the ballot box and in the court room, signaling that the work to build up a social order that respects human life is not finished."

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Last week, a group of Muslim and Jewish leaders released a joint statement with more liberal views, saying that while there may be differing views on abortion within their faiths, the government should not restrict abortion rights.

"We believe that it is not proper for the federal, state, or other government authority to take away the right of a woman to follow and act upon her religious beliefs regarding the decision to either have an abortion or carry a child to term," the group said a statement signed by three Jewish and three Muslim leaders in metro Detroit.

The statement added: "In both communities, there are religious leaders, and schools of legal thought, who will have sharply differing rulings on abortion. However, all of us benefit from the free exercise of religion that the US Constitution has accorded our communities."

Dr. Yahya Basha, a Royal Oak physician who supports abortion rights, is one of the Muslim leaders who signed the statement. His mother died during childbirth in 1962 after she was unable to get an abortion, which has compelled him to speak out for a woman's right to choose.

It's a "terrible, terrible day," Basha said of the Supreme Court's decision. "Religious freedom is getting challenged. We have a lot of work ahead of all of us."

On Wednesday night, Whitmer spoke with Basha on the phone, talking about the issue of abortion and expressing concern about his mother's death, which was written about in a recent Free Press story, Basha said. A White House official also called Basha to talk about his mother's story, he said.

The Jewish and Muslim leaders said "our communities ask that the government remove itself from involvement in these important religious issues. We view the decision to have an abortion, or not to have an abortion, to be one of significant religious import that is best left to the pregnant woman, her imam, rabbi or religious decisor, her doctor, family, or other qualified people upon whom she relies for making decisions."

The statement said the government should not interfere: "We call for the state to not impose its authority upon religious matters, and to allow members of our respective communities to make proper religious decisions without government interference."

The other leaders who signed the statement were Dr. Mahmoud Al-Hadidi, President of the Michigan Muslim Community Council; local attorney Aisha Farooqi; Phillip Neuman, President of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee and Ariana Mentzel, treasurer of the Jewish Community Relations Council/American Jewish Committee.

The Catholic bishops said in their statement they're committed to helping women who can't get abortions, writing that "every pregnant woman should know there is a community of compassion and support waiting to help her and her unborn or infant child."

The bishops said: "Let us, as the Body of Christ here on Earth, pray for all pregnant women and continue to proclaim that human life is sacred from conception to natural death and at every point in between, and to commit ourselves to building a society grounded in that essential God-given right."

In another statement, Vigneron also praised the Supreme Court, but said there is more work to be done.

"While the decision announced today by the U.S. Supreme Court is a cause for praise and thanks to God, it does not mean our work is over," Vigneron said.

"I join my brother bishops in Michigan in affirming that the Church must redouble her efforts to ensure every woman, child, and family has the support necessary to thrive in pregnancy, early childhood, and beyond," Vigneron said. "In the Archdiocese of Detroit, we have partnered with Catholic Charities of Southeast Michigan to launch Walking With Moms in Need, which equips Catholic parishes and parishioners to assist pregnant and parenting mothers."

Miller said anti-abortion activists will continue to fight against a petition drive that seeks to legalize abortion rights in Michigan, and also attempts by Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel to not enforce the 1931 anti-abortion law.

"We have a lot of work to do," Miller said. "We have many battles on our hands."

Contact Niraj Warikoo: nwarikoo@freepress.com or Twitter @nwarikoo

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Catholic bishops in Michigan cheer overturning of Roe v. Wade