Abortion in Michigan, 1972: This is Your Grandma/Sister/Teacher/Mother/Friend/You

Guest Blogger & Reclaim Supporter, Ellen

I delivered this speech at a rally for choice at Ferndale City Hall, May 21, 2019. I had never spoken before a large group; I am a writer and have no real “public speaking” experience. Frankly, the thought terrifies me. But when I learned of the event organized by Fems of Dems, I reached out because I felt compelled to share this story, at this critical time. With a few days’ notice, a crowd of 300 came together with an outpouring of rage—and support. Being in front of the crowd wasn’t the difficult part of the experience--it was very meaningful and memorable, despite a shaking leg. I only cried while writing it. I cried a lot.

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Were you born before Roe v. Wade? Before January 22, 1973?

I was born in 1969.

In 1972, a very close family member had an abortion. She is now in her late 70s and does not wish to be identified, but gave me permission to share her story.

Who was she? An irresponsible, uneducated girl who didn’t know better? 

Not at all. She was a young Jewish mother, college educated, happily married with two young children, who attended a synagogue in Oak Park.

And she was taking birth control pills. Her birth control failed.

Although abortion was illegal in Michigan, fortunately, she did not to have to resort to coat hangers and back alleys. Nor did she have to leave the state or country.

Nope. Her own doctor performed the abortion—illegally-- in his office.

“One day I’ll tell you more about it,” she said, a few days ago.

So this is not the scary, dangerous, she-almost-died abortion story. It might even sound mundane. But because it’s so ordinary, this story could be your grandmother, or your mother or aunt or sister or friend—or maybe it was you.

What did her husband think, in 1972? Well, he told me over lunch yesterday, he recalls she asked at the time whether he supported her decision, and he said yes. And then he told me, “but I would have preferred not” --that she not have the abortion. Not because he was morally opposed, because he would have opted to have another child.

But she didn’t ask. And he didn’t offer his opinion on the subject. Never did. Because it wasn’t his decision to make, although it would have been his biological child.

Her body, her choice.

Around that time, my close family member volunteered for Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, (CCS) representing 2,000 clergy across the US and Canada. Volunteers took phone calls from women seeking abortions, who would be referred to clergy, who then assisted them in procuring either legal or illegal abortions from medically licensed doctors. 

Around that same time, during one of the three attempts for abortion reform in Michigan’s state legislature, something remarkable happened in the state Senate--exactly 50 years ago.

Lorraine Beebe, a Republican from Dearborn Heights, told a room full of male senators that she had a therapeutic abortion in 1948 following five miscarriages. 

Senator Beebe received a standing ovation. The proposed legislation failed. She wept. The admission destroyed her political career, but she went on to become a pro-choice advocate. Along the way, her family was threatened, her tires were slashed and her house was fire bombed.

But the women of Michigan were not deterred--certainly not my close relative. A ballot initiative was launched. With two young children at home, she collected signatures at Northland Mall to put Proposal B on the ballot. Polls showed abortion rights were leading the opposition, but it didn’t come to pass. A very well-organized group of zealots spread their pamphlets and demonstrated with pictures of bloody fetuses at the Ann Arbor Art show that summer. The final push was TV ads aimed at low income and Black women, framing abortion as population control.

The proposal failed miserably.

Two and half months later, with the Supreme Court decision--Roe v Wade--a woman’s right to choose, the right to have an abortion, became the law of the land.

I was four years old at the time.

My very close family member had an abortion just months before it was legal.

I have been a feminist from birth and pro-choice before I fully understood human anatomy, I just knew that it meant the right for a woman—any person—to make choices about their own body. Simple as that.

And now, I don’t equivocate. Choice is absolute. Women are unique and have abortions for individual reasons at different times in their lives.  And none is any less deserving of bodily autonomy. None is deserving of a stranger’s judgement.

I’ve always been a fierce supporter of Planned Parenthood and lately, more so. I attended the House committee hearings on the abortion procedure ban, the D & E--Dilation and Evacuation--which is the medical name, despite the headline-grabbing language used by extremists. I witnessed with horror as the chair of the committee, Rep. Michelle Hoitenga, accused an OB/GYN of having “no credibility.”  That day, I also witnessed the compassion of Reps. Brenda Carter and Cynthia Johnson.

In the end, misinformation and lies won the day. But it won’t in the Governor’s office. That’s why we elected her.

Months ago, I learned the Planned Parenthood clinic in Livonia was being targeted by protesters, and I was eager to step in. That location does not provide abortion care--not that it matters to them, or me. So I monitor the parking lot, usually alone, to prevent patients from being harassed as they come for their paps or birth control pills or cancer screenings or pregnancy tests. The protesters advertise where they can go for free ultrasounds—their lies are free, too.

They call me a murderer and offer to pray with me. I never respond.  No expression. They really hate that.

Once the ringleader lady started saying nasty things about how I must have been raised, about my mother. And that almost got me. Don’t mess with my mother.

I was at Northland Family Planning, the one located in Westland, this past Saturday, and that’s where the protesters are really are out in force; in the summer I hear 100 can show up on a weekend morning.  Independent abortion clinics do not receive government funding and provide the vast majority of abortions. They need your help. If you want to help women in Michigan, write this down: Reclaim Project.

You don’t have to defend the clinics. There are many ways to be an activist. Educate your children, family members and friends. Call BS wherever you see it. Support only pro-choice candidates in any way you can. 

I’m a single-issue voter, I was raised that way, and I’m proud to say so. Any single-issue voters out there?

VOTE like your life depends on it.

Support vital institutions like Planned Parenthood—that goes without saying. And never forget your independent providers who receive less attention.

As for me, I have never had an abortion. I have never been pregnant and I never wanted children. As a matter of fact, I’m queer. That’s beside the point.

These are the issues, for all of us: Bodily autonomy. Privacy. Human dignity.

Here’s a word to the opposition, and to anyone in elective office or who wishes to be:

Pay attention. There’s a whole lotta women not rallying today. Older than the Baby Boomers. The Silent Generation, like my family member who had an abortion in 1972. Like them, she may be silent in public, but raging at home: sharpening her manicure, and writing checks.

Rage on.

It tears me up every day that Roe may be overturned and abortion criminalized again in her lifetime—in OUR lifetimes. I owe it to her, and all who came before me, and all who soldier alongside me, to fight like hell to never let that day come.

Who’s with me?