‘Get your hands off our bodies’

Michigan women of color organize for reproductive rights after Roe is overturned

By: - July 7, 2022 4:06 am

Dozens attended a demonstration held at Detroit’s Palmer Park a few hours after the right-wing dominated U.S. Supreme Court decision was announced on Friday regarding the seminal 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling. | Ken Coleman

Women of color are vowing to push back against the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to end constitutional protection for abortion.

Last month, the right-wing U.S. Supreme Court announced it had overturned of the seminal 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling with a decision in a Mississippi case. 

State Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) and State Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit) attended a demonstration held at Detroit’s Palmer Park a few hours after the June 24 court ruling.  

“We have to stand up for bodily autonomy. People should have the ability to choose their own destiny,” said Geiss, who is Afro-Latina. 

Scott, who is African American and represents a majority-Black portion of Detroit, blasted the high court’s decision. 

“It’s egregious what’s happening,” said Scott. “I’m here to stand and say, ‘Get your hands off our bodies.’” 

The decision by six of the court’s nine justices will allow each state to set its own abortion laws, leading to a patchwork of access throughout the country.

Michigan has a 1931 felony abortion ban on the books. It is currently unenforceable after Court of Claims Judge Elizabeth Gleicher granted a preliminary injunction in a suit brought by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. But some GOP county prosecutors have said they will enforce the law anyway.

Nicole Wells Stallworth, executive director at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said the court decision “is a dark day for our country, and we are outraged.” 

“By overturning Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court has signaled that it trusts politicians more than us to make our own, deeply personal, medical decisions,” said Stallworth, who is African American, through a statement.  

The Michigan Legislative Black Caucus (MLBC), which advocates for people of color, called the decision “some bulls–t.” 

“The attack on reproductive rights is a travesty,” said Sen. Marshall Bullock (D-Detroit), the MLBC chair, through a statement. “This decision will have a devastating impact on already glaring health care disparities in Black and Brown communities. Denying women the right to control their own body and to make their own health care choices only further exacerbates the ongoing assault on Black and Brown communities across the nation.”

Experts agree that BIPOC women will be the most impacted by abortion bans.

Sean Vallesis, director of the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice within the Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine, said that the SCOTUS decision will disproportionately affect women of color. Vallesis predicted that Black maternal mortality rates will “spike.”

“The U.S. already has pregnant people dying of pregnancy-related complications at nearly four times the rate of other wealthy countries, with non-Hispanic Black pregnant people having a rate that’s more than twice as bad,” said Vallesis in a statement

During a webinar on Tuesday co-hosted by the Economic Policy Institute and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta, said that abortion rights an intrinsic part of economic rights. 

“Every time we see the sort of throwaway comment that this will disproportionately impact communities of color, we actually need to continue to draw that back to the roots of white supremacy and systemic racism — generations of systemic racism that are embedded in our policy decisions and have been compounded over time,” said Jackson. 

“Black communities are not accidentally more poor. They are intentionally denied the opportunities for wealth building, and for opportunities to pull themselves out of the poverty that they have been in cyclically.”

In Michigan, more than one in every four (26.7%) of Black residents lived in poverty in 2019, according to data assembled by the Kaiser Family Foundation. It is in contrast with 9.9% of whites and 19.8% of Latino state residents and 10.4% of Asian/Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander and 21.9% of Native Americans Michiganders. About 14% of Michigan’s population is African American.    

Meanwhile, abortion rights advocates are gathering signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative. The “Reproductive Freedom for All” measure would enshrine the right to abortion in the Michigan Constitution, as well as protect Michiganders’ right to make decisions relating to pregnancy, including birth control, prenatal care and childbirth. In response, an anti-abortion coalition that includes the Michigan Catholic Conference and Right to Life of Michigan has launched a campaign against the ballot effort. 

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) encouraged attendees at the Palmer Park rally to organize and help to advance the ballot initiative.  

“Keep pushing; keep marching; keep rallying in the street,” said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American. “I know that the majority of people in our country are with us.” 

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.