‘Reproductive Freedom For All’ Sets Its Sights On November Ballot
A grassroots movement in Michigan could prove a powerful playbook for states looking to protect abortion when the federal government won’t.
Kyleigh Wegener is raising two daughters in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A surviver of sexual assault and intense postpartum depression, Kyleigh is reeling from the overturn of Roe and the dire effects on her mental health.
She also fears for her children.
MCL 750.14 is Michigan’s 1931 trigger ban abortion law (which stems from an 1846 abortion ban), that makes it a felony to procure a miscarriage, unless necessary to “preserve life,” with no exception for rape or incest.
“If any of us were to be raped, we would be forced to not only deal with the trauma that comes from being sexually assaulted, but we would have to carry our abuser’s baby to term,” says Wegener.
While a Michigan circuit court judge granted an injunction — keeping abortion legal in the state while lawsuits from Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Planned Parenthood await their day in court to appeal the ban — Wegener and her husband are planning for the worst.
“The trauma I have from my sexual assaults is there, but also the whole reason why I’m deciding not to have kids anymore is because I had such severe postpartum anxiety.
I truly believe I almost died and I don’t know that I would be able to survive it again.”
Wegener says she’s thankful that leaders like Whitmer, Attorney General Dana Nessel, Planned Parenthood and Dr. Sarah Wallett are fighting for Michiganer reproductive rights — 57% of voters oppose the overturning of Roe — but this election season will be crucial as to whether her family will remain in the state. If progressive leaders can’t maintain control and take the majority in the house and the Senate, “we’re moving out of Michigan.” She and her husband have been taking on freelance gigs to stockpile money in case they need to move.
“I won’t raise my girls in a place that doesn’t protect them,” Wegener says. “Abortion shouldn’t be controversial. It’s essential healthcare. It saves people’s lives.”
“It was a gut punch to a lot of folks in Michigan when the Supreme court decision was leaked,” says Merissa Kovach, Legislative Director for ACLU of Michigan. “There was a level of disbelief that the Supreme court would overturn Roe. It left folks scrambling, feeling scared and worried about what would happen.”
But for Kovach and the ACLU of MI, the writing had long been on the wall. And they were waiting in the wings with the Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative, which would codify bodily autonomy on everything from pregnancy and birth control, to prenatal care and abortion rights.
This political moment marks a vital need to foster grassroots movements and leverage the often underutilized power of state and local governments to heed the call of their constituents.
“That morning, for anyone who woke up scared and not knowing what to do, there was a place to turn to, to channel aggression and fears,” says Kovach.
“Something that was tangible that could yield real results in protecting the right to abortion and not just abortion, but the right to full reproductive bodily autonomy in this state. We knew this was coming. We were prepared for this.”
On July 11th, 753,759 signatures for the Reproductive Freedom for All ballot initiative (collected entirely in-person) were submitted, boasting 400,000 more signatures than needed and setting a historic record for a ballot measure in Michigan. Michigan election officials are in the throes of reviewing signatures and will determine whether Repro. Freedom for All will appear on the November ballot by the end of August.
Kovach says she feels a small sense of relief due to the lawsuits and the protections they provide, but that reassurance is fragile.
“What we have now is good, but it is temporary,” Kovach explains.
“Even if the 1931 law were struck down, there’s nothing currently to prevent someone from passing another near total ban on abortion, a six-week ban, a 15-week ban — laws that regulate abortion providers to the point that it would be impossible for clinics to keep their doors open.”
The ballot initiative is vital — it not only proactively protects reproductive freedoms, but combats abortion’s enduring stigma, continued marginalization, and the danger of governing people’s bodies.
“Ultimately, voters agree that a politician’s personal feelings should not have bearing on their own medical decisions and ability to access medicine,” says Kovach. “Those decisions are so sacred that the government should not have a right to intervene. We should never have had to be in a situation where abortion was treated as anything but healthcare.”
Wegener echoes Kovach’s insistence that the government has no role to play in the intimacies of her body or mental health.
“Legislators don’t know that I’ve attended therapy at least every other week (sometimes multiple times a week) to work through my trauma,” Wegener writes in an essay documenting her fear and frustration around the collapse of Roe.
“They don’t know that I’ve tried a combination of nearly 10 different psychiatric meds in less than three years. And they don’t know that I’m about to start TMS treatment to treat my major depressive disorder, but my doctors do.
That’s why the decision to have an abortion must remain between a pregnant person and their doctor. That’s it.”
Kovach says the collective timbre is one of exhaustion. “It’s like drinking from a fire hose. There is so much bad happening, it is hard to hold attention to any one thing,” so it’s essential we don’t let the fire flame out. We need the media to maintain a drumbeat and for Michiganers to vote ‘Yes’ this November.
Reproductive Freedom for All could prove to be a powerful playbook for states looking to protect abortion when the federal government won’t.
“Something has to be done because if we let this happen, if we stay silent about it, other things are going to be taken from us,” says Wegener. “Like our right to birth control. And I’m sorry, I was not put on this planet to breed.”