Protesters rally against anti-abortion efforts, say bans are 'going back in history'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — A few days after two separate anti-abortion ballot initiatives gained preliminary approvals from a state panel, protesters took to the Capitol steps with calls to preserve abortion in Michigan and threats to challenge Republican lawmakers who support the bans.

Dressed in a red cloak and white bonnet to represent oppressed female characters in Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale," Carrie Gallup listens to speakers on the Capitol lawn Saturday, June 22, 2019 during a rally opposing bans that would limit legal abortion procedures in Michigan.

Many of the more than 300 people gathered on the Capitol lawn Saturday wore red cloaks and white bonnets to represent the women forced to bear children in Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale."

“Because of these anti-abortion laws being proposed across the nation, there is a shift and it’s not a good one,” said Stacey Frausto, the lead organizer of the protest. “It feels like we’re going back in history.”

The protest occurred a week after the Michigan Heartbeat Coalition occupied the same Capitol steps to mobilize and educate volunteers who will collect signatures for one of two ballot initiatives that would ban certain types of abortions.

The measures likely will face legal challenges if enacted. Anti-abortion activists across the country are passing similar restrictions, in some instances to push the increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider or chip away at Roe v. Wade, the 1973 ruling that established a constitutional right to abortion.

Activists who spoke Saturday encouraged attendees to alert family and friends to the efforts in Michigan and to register to vote so they could send a message to the GOP-led legislature that is expected to be instrumental in the abortion ban’s passage in Michigan.

Kim Enokian of Brighton (left) and her 19-year-old niece Krystalyn Terski protest on the Capitol lawn Saturday, June 22, 2019 to oppose bans that would limit legal abortion procedures in Michigan.

“If you come for our freedoms, we’ll come for you,” Southfield activist Michelle Elizabeth Brown said. “We’re going to run candidates against you. We’re going to fight this in the courts if we have to.”

Michigan Values Life, a group backed by Right to Life of Michigan, is poised to begin collecting signatures over the next six months on a ballot initiative that would ban dilation and evacuation abortions on living fetuses, referred to as "dismemberment abortions" in the petition language.

"Our ban is on a specific, barbaric procedure," said Genevieve Marnon, a spokeswoman for Right to Life of Michigan. "It has nothing to do with women’s rights; it has everything to do with humanity...It has to do with the rights of the child in the womb to not be torn limb from limb.”

The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition is collecting signatures on a second, separate ballot initiative that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. 

Both efforts are gaining momentum as more people learn about the procedures they would ban, Rick Warzywak, a board member of the Heartbeat Coalition, said last week. 

“Its just educating people that a heartbeat detected is a baby protected," Warzywak said, noting that a heart rate monitor in a hospital usually indicates a patient’s viability. “Why not for a child?”

On Wednesday, the Board of State Canvassers approved both ballot initiatives as to form, clearing the way for both groups to begin gathering the roughly 340,000 signatures they’ll need to get the measures on the ballot. Both groups hope the GOP-led legislature will adopt and enact the measures before they make it to the ballot.

By approaching the ban through a citizen-initiated petition, the groups avoid a likely veto from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer who has vowed to reject any anti-abortion legislation that reaches her desk.

April Michael, 30, of St. Clair Shores, joins in a rally opposing proposed bans on abortion on the Capitol lawn on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

While the Heartbeat Coalition began mobilizing and training volunteers at its rally last week, Right to Life of Michigan is expected to mark the official launch of its signature drive on Wednesday.  

The efforts to further restrict abortions are “just the start of the repression” women could face if people don’t take a stand, said Christine Ingles, a Novi woman at Saturday’s rally.

“This is their window,” Ingles said of the anti-abortion legislation appearing in several different states. “They’ve been working on this a long, long time.”

Ingles, 66, is no stranger to demonstrations. She said she’s been arrested 15 times in the past 18 months in Washington D.C. where she was part of protests related to immigration, health care and the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kim Enokian of Brighton came to Saturday’s rally with her 19-year-old niece Krystalyn Terski. A health care worker, Enokian said she felt compelled to fight against the strictures and was “appalled” by the surge in efforts to outlaw abortions.

“Everything’s under attack,” she said.

Dressed in a red cloak and white bonnet, Carrie Gallup said she attended the rally Saturday out of concern for her two daughters.

“These issues were settled before I was born,” the Sherwood woman said. “They shouldn’t be issues they face in their futures.”

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