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Michigan Activists Shut Down Legislature to Read Statement on Abortion

As nine unelected Supreme Court judges prepare a likely ruling that will effectively overturn Roe v. Wade, Michigan activists are fighting to keep abortion legal in that state.

Jessica Prozinski

December 7, 2021
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Group of protesters. A person wearing a white shirt with a red shirt tied around their waist is in the front left, and in the front right, a person wearing a red shirt is holding a red sign that reads "We won't" on top with a hanger in the center and "go back" on the bottom.
A march in Detroit for abortion rights on October 2. Photo: Detroit Free Press

Twelve states have trigger laws that will automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is effectively overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS). Michigan is not one of them, but like eight other states still has pre-Roe-era abortion bans on the books that were simply made null when the Supreme Court established abortion as a constitutional right in 1973. These outdated laws, having been left on the books all these years, could become enforceable without the federal protections established specifically by the Roe decision, or if SCOTUS upholds the Mississippi law that sets a new standard for when abortion is legal. 

Michigan’s anti-abortion law, Act 328, dates from 1931. It makes it a felony to use an instrument or administer any substance with the intent “to procure the miscarriage” of a woman—unless necessary to preserve her life. Its other provisions include outlawing sodomy (the law specifies it is not necessary to prove “emission”), seduction (“Any man who shall seduce and debauch any unmarried woman shall be guilty of a felony”), blasphemy (a misdemeanor), and dueling. Of these, only the section on dueling has been repealed. 

On December 1, when SCOTUS heard arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which addresses the Mississippi abortion law that bans abortions after 15 weeks, Michigan activists shut down the session of the House of Representatives in Lansing, the state’s capital, to read a joint statement. 

With voices raised in unison from the viewing gallery, high above the legislators, the protesters declared in part: 

We support the right to abortion unconditionally … We are here as delegates from the streets, and we’re here to issue a warning: ideas are powerful, and they’re contagious. Today we’re up here and you’re down there. Your power is in the back room, our power is in the streets. We are not impressed. We are here to fight for real democracy. You will see us again.

Protesters then sent copies of the statement sailing down to the representatives on the floor. As they left the gallery, they chanted, “Repeal Act 328!”

Capitol police roughed up one protester on the way out, grabbing her by the collar and choking her as they pulled her out of the gallery. 

Representative Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) tweeted a recording of part of the protest, saying, “There have been few moments that have taken my breath away while on the floor. This was one of them.”

Pohutsky and several other Democrats introduced a bill in November, the Reproductive Health Act, which would repeal Act 328 and protect the legality of abortion in Michigan if Roe were effectively overturned. Republicans, though, control both houses of the Michigan legislature. The Reproductive Health Act was sent to die in the Health Policy Committee. 

Despite the Democratic-sponsored bill, neither of the two major capitalist parties will be the savior of abortion rights. The Republicans are openly committed to perpetuating men’s control over women as part of preserving the patriarchal roles on which capitalism depends. The Democrats fear nothing more than the people, mobilized. The Democratic Party, AKA “the graveyard of social movements,” would sooner let every right fall than to do anything that could lead to a movement in the streets. 

Such a movement, though, is our only real hope for defending our abortion rights, and democracy itself, from the rise of the Right. Democrats know that the birth of such a movement would be a serious challenge to their positions, as new, popular leaders from the movement would arise to take their places. In contrast, their political strategists see having abortion rights on the chopping block in perpetuity as actually helping get voters to the polls for “pro-choice” Democratic candidates; that’s why the Democrats have never taken real steps to secure abortion rights once and for all, throughout the United States, even when they’ve controlled both the White House and Congress.

It is imperative that we reject leaving this fight to the losing terrain of electoral politics. There is no way forward there.

The Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020 was demobilized in large part because the Democrats worked hard to usher our outrage into the channels of “politics as usual.” But legislation will never stop racist police brutality. Even though states have passed over 140 police reform bills since George Floyd was murdered, the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act remains, shamefully, stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Without racism, without sexism, the capitalist system could not survive. It takes a lot of mechanizations to protect a system in which millions starve while billionaires travel to space. The role of the police is to protect that system, by fear and by force when they have to. 

Mass mobilization is the only effective strategy for victory. 

We reject giving partisan hacks in legislatures or on the U.S. Supreme Court the authority to restrict our bodily autonomy. 

If the right to abortion falls, it will put contraception, same-sex marriage, and transgender rights in the line of fire from religious bigots who seek to make the U.S. state enforce their minority beliefs.

During arguments in the Mississippi abortion case, Justice Sonya Sotomayor asked, “Will this institution survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?” 

Michigan activists are ready to rise up along with fighters for abortion rights around the country to answer in a resounding voice: “No!”

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