Roe v. Wade in Michigan: Women on both sides of debate take to the streets

·10 min read

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade case means the nation’s battles over abortion now move to the states, and Michiganders on Friday took to the streets to say they are preparing for the fight.

“You know how we ended segregation? You know how we got the civil rights act? You know how we got women the right to vote?” U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, shouted into a microphone at Palmer Park Friday afternoon. “It was because of organizing in the streets. It’s because of you being loud, unapologetic.”

She urged people to fight for abortion rights at the ballot box.

That rally was one of several across metro Detroit where people voiced their anger, joy, relief, and disappointment in the court’s decision.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Theodore Levin federal courthouse in downtown Detroit, near metal barricades patrolled by police. From there, they marched through downtown, Greektown, Hart Plaza, and elsewhere. They promised to organize, vote, and circulate petitions that would create a right to abortion in Michigan’s Constitution.

In Livonia, anti-abortion activists gathered outside a Planned Parenthood facility on Farmington Road to hail the decision carrying signs saying "Roe is Dead," and urging passing motorists to honk for life.

From left, pro-choice advocate Madison Thomas, 19 of Farmington Hills, and Lynn Mills, 68, of Livonia, the director of Pro Life Michigan argue in front of Planned Parenthood on Farmington Road in Livonia on Friday, June 24, 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
From left, pro-choice advocate Madison Thomas, 19 of Farmington Hills, and Lynn Mills, 68, of Livonia, the director of Pro Life Michigan argue in front of Planned Parenthood on Farmington Road in Livonia on Friday, June 24, 2022 after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The high court decision brought out people of diverse backgrounds and opinions.

"It's important that people who look like me are in this fight and making sure our voices are heard,” said Zori Martinez, 20, of Detroit, a Black Puerto Rican, who led chants and helped organize the rally downtown in support of abortion rights.

Miriam Kennedy, 60, of Livonia, offered a similar thought with the opposite intent, saying she wants to speak for the unborn.

"By the grace of God I want to be a voice for those who have no voice, who can't speak," Kennedy said.

The rallies were loud but as of late afternoon peaceful with no reports of violence.

There were reports of vandalism at some pregnancy centers that steer women away from abortion and at the office of U.S. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Tipton, an abortion opponent.

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Attorney General Dana Nessel was asked about the damage to Walberg's office and said she wasn't familiar with the facts of it. She suggested Walberg should report it to the hate crimes unit of her office if he felt that was the motivation.

From what little she has heard, “it looks like vandalism,” she said. “I don’t believe it rises to the level of domestic terrorism."

Nessel said she condemns any acts of violence or vandalism and said her office would prosecute people who engaged in it.

The court's decision was personal to people on both sides of the debate. Democrats in Oakland County planned a candlelight vigil in Ferndale to support abortion rights.

Paulette Mills, 55, of Mount Clemens, said that in the 1990s, she would go to an abortion clinic on the east side of Detroit on dozens of Saturdays.

There, she'd walk terrified women from their cars to the clinic, dodging the yells of pro-life protesters telling these women that they were going against God's will, that they were sinners, that they were going to hell.

"Can you imagine?" Mills said. Decades later, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and Mills' heart sank, she said.

"I called up my friends and said, 'let's go protest,' " Mills said at the rally outside the federal courthouse. She carried a black sign with white writing "with sorrow we dissent" — a quote from the three Supreme Court judges who dissented in the decision.

Soraya Puerto-Khalil, 18, of Royal Oak, said she made plans to attend the downtown rally as soon as the decision hit social media. She went with a friend and her friend's mom.

Abortion-rights protesters march through downtown Detroit following a rally at the Theodore Levin Federal Court building in Detroit to protest against the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.
Abortion-rights protesters march through downtown Detroit following a rally at the Theodore Levin Federal Court building in Detroit to protest against the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24, 2022.

"My fear is that it's going to get violent and my hope is that we make a change and get some attention," she said.

She acknowledged the divisiveness of the issue, saying her grandmother and a couple of her friends disagree with her on whether abortion is a right.

"I try to educate them the best I can on how to vote for the right people and to make sure they educate themselves on what it means to be pro-life and what it means to pro-choice so that they can make the best decisions," she said.

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Linda Jordan, 35, of Royal Oak, headed downtown after work to attend the rally as well.

"I am here because i believe that a woman’s right to choose is a fundamental right and I worry about the people who will have to make terrible decisions based on not having access to abortion," she said.

Dianne Feeley, 82, of Detroit, is a white woman who was raised Catholic. She addressed the rally and urged protesters to use all tools to oppose the ruling, including civil disobedience. She said she has been advocating for abortion rights since 1968.

"We didn't call for Roe v. Wade. We didn't call for three trimester set of regulations. We called for free abortion on demand," she said to cheers from the crowd. "The Supreme Court, which has always been the most undemocratic of the three branches of government, is now under their control and just look at one evil decision after another that is rolling out. We reject their decisions. They reject our humanity."

Rai Lanier, of Detroit, is the director of the Michigan Liberation, a group that works to end mass incarceration, said the ruling will be especially hard on Black women, who often lack access to neonatal care.

"With the Supreme Court's decision today, every birthing person is at risk for felony prosecution and incarceration and that s--- ain't right," she said.

At the Palmer Park rally, protesters chanted: 2-4-6-8, you can't make us procreate, and "We won't back down, we won't submit, we're fed up with all this s---!"

Toria Turner, 46, of Detroit, came alone but left her sons at home fearing the protest could become dangerous. She said she felt safe when she saw police officers there. She urged people to sign petitions.

“I am just appalled that Roe vs. Wade has been overturned," she said.

She urged action to force change.

'If we all got together and collect signatures, it would make a big difference," she said. "I am a true believer and supporter of reproductive rights. Especially for African American women and Indigenous women because this is going to affect us, really the hardest."

Richard Mucha, 79, of Livonia, holds a crucifix while joining others from Pro-Life Michigan that came out on Friday, June 24, 2022 to stand in front of the Planned Parenthood on Farmington Road in Livonia after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier in the day. 
Mucha says he's been praying for 49 years for this day to come.
Richard Mucha, 79, of Livonia, holds a crucifix while joining others from Pro-Life Michigan that came out on Friday, June 24, 2022 to stand in front of the Planned Parenthood on Farmington Road in Livonia after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade earlier in the day. Mucha says he's been praying for 49 years for this day to come.

In Livonia, about 20 advocates cheered the decision. They carried signs with messages like “abortion stops a beating heart” and urged motorists to honk for life.

Lynn Mills, 68, of Livonia, is the director of Pro Life Michigan, an advocacy group that opposes abortion, was there.

She said she was in downtown Detroit training to be an election worker Friday morning when the ruling was released. She learned about it in her car on the ride home and her reaction was: “Joy beyond expectation.”

Mills said she was a teenager and startled by the Roe decision in 1973 because the year before, Michigan had voted down a ballot measure that would have legalized some abortions.

“The Supreme Court came in and wiped out those state's rights,” she said. “I’m thankful I lived to see the day it was reversed. This is a very important day for so many people, for children, for babies in the womb.”

Kennedy said she was at home and learned of the ruling while listening to a Christian news report. She said she thought she would never live to see the day Roe was overturned.

“I was ecstatic,” she said. “I was praising God and thanking Jesus and praising the holy spirit. I was in seventh heaven.”

Robert Togola, 49, of Farmington Hills attended the Livonia rally. He said that he first visited the Planned Parenthood facility there about four years ago to support a friend who wanted to protest but was afraid.

Tagola said everyone in his immediate family shares his views on the abortion issue, but not all of his friends or extended family agree.

“We just have to look at it ourselves and realize that life is previous,” he said.

He said he’s not trying to sway anyone and everyone “finds the truth themselves.”

“I have my say, they have their say, and we just draw a line,” he said.

Over the years of attending these protests, he said he’s become acquaintances with some people who show up regularly.

“I’m just happy,” he said. “The Supreme Court justices looked at it and got it right.”

The rally was organized by Mills’ group, but at least one abortion rights supporter attended to confront the crowd gathered there.

“I think it's ridiculous and I'm out here just giving my giving my two cents,” said Madison Thomas, 19, of Farmington Hills, who learned of the ruling on social media Friday morning. “The first thing I did was book it to Planned Parenthood.”

Thomas said the ruling will force woman to resort to dangerous abortions that aren’t provided in medical settings. She carried a sign saying guns have more rights than women do and included two coat hangers with the words “Need an abortion 2022?”

“In my opinion, today is 50 years backward and a bad day for women,” she said.

In Ann Arbor, about 500 people gathered at the University of Michigan Diag Friday evening for a vigil organized by The Washtenaw Helpers on Abortion Access.

Charles Child, 70, of Ann Arbor and Janice Rushton, 64, of Plymouth attended and collected signatures of the ballot initiative together.

Rushton said that she was not surprised to hear the Supreme Court’s decision this morning.

“I was disappointed but not surprised,” Ruston said. “We’re going back, not forward and I’m really concerned for women, and men, these days."

Child said he "felt this kind of thud," when the decision was announced.

“It really hit me pretty hard," he said. "It’s just so unsettling and upsetting. It was more of a depressing moment rather than a shocker.”

Rushton said the issue is so divisive, it has affected her friendships.

“I have friends who have different views,” Rushton said. “In fact, I was in Phoenix at the beginning of March and was meeting a friend I’ve known since birth actually and apparently she’d been hearing me share my views on things these days and she never said anything to let me know that her views were different until the end of the visit. And she is unwilling to talk to me anymore and it’s pretty painful.”

Savonne Przondek, 34, of Belleville learned of the Supreme Court decision through text messages from friends and traveled to Ann Arbor to attend the vigil.

Prozondek said she’s never had an experience with abortion herself, but has friends who have. They would have been adversely impacted if abortions had been illegal at the time.

“I think (this decision) would have impacted them in ways of potentially not being able to finish college, not going with their career as planned,” Przondek said.

Przondek acknowledged the difficulty of discussing such issues with family members and people close to her.

“Sometimes it is hard to not let emotions show when you’re trying to talk about important issues,” Przondek said. “It can be hard talking to people especially when they are family members. I think that’s where it kind of hits home and you wish that they would understand the situation the same way you understand (it).”

Travis Stachlewitz, 33, of Ypsilanti, said he was afraid of the uncertainty the decision brings.

“I’m very disappointed and a little scared. I’m worried about what else is going to change,” Stachlewitz said. “I think we’re really going to have to change how we’re voting for people representing us. We’ve got to hold them to a higher standard and hold them more accountable.”

Contact John Wisely: 313-222-6825 or jwisely@freepress.com. On Twitter @jwisely

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Roe v. Wade overturning sparks marches, protests across Michigan