Residents join local anti-abortion protest

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Residents march across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge Tuesday to protest recent anti-abortion legislation in Michigan and other states.

HOUGHTON — About 30 Copper Country residents marched across the Portage Lake Lift Bridge Tuesday as part of a nationwide protest against a wave of anti-abortion laws being passed or proposed across the country.

“The bans are medically unsound, and women are going to rally,” said Susan Burack, organizer of the local march. “This is happening in Michigan. It’s not just in Alabama.”

A recent Alabama law would make performing an abortion a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the physician. The law does not exempt rape or incest.

In Michigan, the state House and Senate approved bans on dilation and evacuation abortions last week on party-line votes.

A physician who performs one could be charged with a two-year felony unless the mother’s life is in danger. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer promised to veto the bill.

“I was very shocked, that things could go backwards in time,” said marcher Lynn Gerou of Hancock. “It’s going to hurt people of low incomes especially. When you’re rich you can go anywhere, do anything you want.”

Likewise, Stella Statler of Dollar Bay said abortion restrictions would represent a step back.

“If we don’t have a choice, then women are going to do it anyways,” she said. “They’re going to go back to the dirty basements, with the dirty tools. They’re going to be risking infections, they’re going to be risking their lives.”

Another anti-abortion measure would bypass Whitmer. The Michigan Heartbeat Coalition ballot committee announced Tuesday it had launched a petition drive for a initiative to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks. Doctors who perform abortions after that point would be subject to two to four years in prison, or from six to 15 years if the mother dies.

Several other states have passed their own fetal heartbeat bills, including Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio, Georgia and Iowa.

Michigan is one of nine states with indirect initiatives, meaning citizen initiatives go to the Legislature first. If it gets enough signatures to make the ballot — 340,047, or 8 percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election — the Legislature could vote to pass it before the election. If not, it would go to the ballot. Under Michigan law, the governor cannot veto bills in either case.

The anti-abortion group Michigan Right to Life has gotten several laws passed in recent decades through that procedure. Most recent was the 2013 ban on abortion coverage under basic health insurance plans that came after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill.

One counterprotester took part in Tuesday’s march. Raili McClellan of Chassell said she wanted to represent the other side and the rights of the unborn.

She was encouraged by the passage of the Michigan laws.

“I think it’s a good thing,” she said. “They’re taking steps forward.”

At least some of the measures have been crafted with an eye toward changing federal law. Alabama Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored Alabama’s bill, said her hope was to “get this case in front of the Supreme Court so Roe v. Wade can be overturned.”

Burack attributed the root cause of the laws to “men wanting to control women.” She recalled testifying in front of the Indiana Senate in 1972 — the year before the passage of Roe v. Wade — where she said “Every child a wanted child.”

“I often think where would be be now if the women’s movement hadn’t spent all those years fighting this battle?” she said. “We might be a lot further ahead than we are.”

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