Supreme Court abortion ruling sparks demonstrations across Michigan

From the state Capitol to suburban Metro Detroit, scores of activists, residents and leaders marched, demonstrated and spoke out Friday about the Supreme Court decision overturning the constitutional right to abortions.

Some expressed outrage at what they called a significant loss.

"With this Supreme Court decision today, every birthing person is at risk for felony persecution and incarceration," said Rai Lanier, executive director of Michigan Liberation, to hundreds who rallied outside the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit. "And that s--- ain’t right."

Gov Whitmer speaks to a crowd of around 350  people gathered at the steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing on Friday June 24, 2022, to protest the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and return authority over abortions to the states.

At an evening abortion rights rally Friday at the Capitol in Lansing, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer encouraged the crowd of about 400 demonstrators to take action by chanting “LFG,” or “Let’s f---ing go!” a saying adopted by the the U.S. women's soccer team in their fight for pay equity. 

The Democratic governor encouraged the crowd to turn their anger and grief into action by organizing and electing pro-abortion rights candidates.

“We cannot stew in this moment,” Whitmer said. “We must turn it into mobilization and action.”

The governor said she was raised by a “pro-choice Republican” father, but now was facing a reality where her daughters, who attended Friday’s rally, would have fewer rights than their mother had.

She criticized the Republican-led Legislature’s defense of the state’s 1931 abortion ban in court and a GOP lawmaker’s recent introduction of a bill that would make providing an abortion a 10-year felony.  

“If you know a Republican or independent who values women's rights, we’ve got to invite them to join us,” Whitmer said.

Toward the end of her address, the governor called on the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately consider her suit seeking an order establishing a right to abortion in the state constitution.

“It is time for them to rule,” she said.

Friends Holly Paisley and Emily Kahn, both 29, came out to the protest organized by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan at the Capitol.

“I feel abortion is a basic right and I feel like everyone should have the right to a safe abortion,” Kahn said. “You can’t ban unsafe abortions.”

A crowd of around 350 people gather at the steps of the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing Friday to protest the US Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and return authority over abortions to the states.

Lura Van Sweden marched for women’s rights on Western Michigan University in the 60s and was back on the Capitol lawn Friday because she said her “heart is broken.”

But the 73-year-old Plainwood woman also was determined.

“We have to be proactive,” Van Sweden said. “Don’t quit. That’s what they want, for us to give up. I won’t give up.”

Friday’s Lansing protest marked Joseph Barkdoll’s first time attending such an event.

“There’s a lot of outrage and if I don’t show up now, if I don’t speak up now, when would be the next best time?” the 23-year-old Houghton man said.

While protests erupted Friday afternoon, some in southeast Michigan cheered the news from Washington.

In the mid-afternoon, about two dozen anti-abortion activists were stationed just off the sidewalk of a Planned Parenthood center on Farmington Road, receiving sporadic honks of support from passing drivers. Since the facility opened three years ago, protesters have camped on the sidewalk in front of the clinic three times a week, holding signs and seeking to change the mind of women seeking to get an abortion. 

But there was an added sense of joy emanating from the demonstrators, many of whom have been fighting to make abortion illegal for decades. New signs reading “Roe is Dead” were added to the mix of protest posters.

“It’s a celebration, really,” said Patricia Stephanoff. 

Richard Mucha, “This is one of the most glorious days of my life.  I have been waiting for this day for 49 years.  The grace of Jesus finally came.  I’m been emotionally involved in this for 49 years, how can this not be emotional.”  Pro-life demonstrators gather outside a Planned Parenthood center in Livonia, Michigan on June 24, 2022.

The 65-year-old Livonia resident has been involved in the anti-abortion movement for 30 years. She goes to the March for Life movement in Washington, D.C., every year and has been coming out to protest at the Livonia clinic since it opened. 

Stephanoff said she was feeling joyful after the Supreme Court issued its decision.

“Happiness is fleeting, joyful is forever. It was a very joyful moment for me," she said, calling abortion the biggest atrocity of our time and comparing legal abortion to paganism. "Not just for me but for the whole pro-life movement because we worked really hard."

But Stephanoff stressed there was still work to do to ensure states across the country  act to make abortion illegal.

“So next step really is to work on being involved and getting other people involved in the Legislature, in their local councils, in politics basically,” she said, explaining that it was important to “put in the right people to keep abortion illegal.”

Also among the demonstrators was Pro-Life Michigan organizer Lynn Mills, who said she was in the middle of an election training session in downtown Detroit when the news arrived of the court’s ruling.

“As soon as I got outside, I could grasp for breath and take it all in,” she said standing outside the clinic on Friday afternoon. 

Mills also demonstrates in Livonia multiple times a week but said the energy was different today.

“It feels glorious today,” said Mills, a 68-year-old Livonia resident. 

The ruling isn’t the end of their journey, she said, since the end of a national right to abortion has moved the battle to the states. Mills supports state abortion bans and would like to see laws passed granting personhood to the unborn, but for now they’re celebrating.

“We're just reveling in no federal mandate saying abortion legal across the land,” Mills said.

The anti-abortion activist supports Michigan's century-old ban on abortion, which a state court order has prevented from taking effect. The only exceptions for abortion are in cases when the mother’s health is at risk. She said she would not support amending the law to allow for that kind of exception.

“Then you’re opening it for broad interpretation, you know?” Mills said. "No, I'm not going to have wide interpretation of whatever the hell.” 

More than a half-hour east, in downtown Detroit, hundreds of abortion supporters gathered in blazing heat to angrily demand protections both statewide and nationally.

Standing across from police barricades surrounding the federal courthouse, they hoisted signs with messages such as "We dissent," "Bans off our bodies" and "Keep your 'beliefs' off my briefs."

Later, they marched through the streets, chanting "When abortion rights are under attack, what do we do? Rise up, fight back!"

Some of the nearly dozen speakers who addressed the crowd underscored such action as the best way to spark change.

"Our power is in organizing collectively," said Nakia Wallace, an organizer and co-founder of Detroit Will Breathe.

She and others feared accepting the overturning of Roe v. Wade would lead to loss of other hot-button issues, such as the right to same-sex marriage.

"We must not allow for this country to go down this slippery slope," said Mel Herrera, a leader with the Metro Detroit chapter for the Democratic Socialists of America. "It's time to unite and fight."

The issue galvanized participants such as Courtney Cloutier of Ferndale, who joined the throng with a sign.

Abortion-rights protesters gather during a rally outside the Theodore Levin Federal Court building in Detroit to demonstrate against the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

"For me both as a woman and a lawyer, it is important that we always come out here and do what we can to protect the rights of ourselves and others and even the ones who are not like us going through things that are hard for us to understand," she said. "We should always protect all of that."

Cloutier also expressed optimism that demonstrating with a steady stream of others would be a turning point.

"I wouldn't be out here if I didn’t hope that there's a change, if I didn't have hope for our country to always do the right thing," she said.