Two years after Dobbs, the battle for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights continues

Nikki Giovanni’s quote, “The art of being a woman is hiding your pain behind a smile,” resonates deeply as we reflect on the two-year anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade. This decision stripped away the constitutional right to abortion, igniting a fierce battle for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights.

In Michigan, this struggle has been met with a robust response aimed at preserving and expanding reproductive freedoms. While other states have moved to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive services, Michigan has taken a progressive stance, enacting laws to protect these rights and ensure that individuals retain control over their health care decisions.

Two years after the Dobbs decision, Michigan remains a state where access to abortion care has not been interrupted.

“Two years ago, Americans had their constitutional right to abortion stripped away by an extreme, out-of-touch Supreme Court,” Governor Gretchen Whitmer stated. “We must keep fighting to protect the fundamental freedom of every person to make their own health care decisions about their own bodies. While other states have gone backwards, banning abortion, going after birth control, and gutting all kinds of critical health care, we are leading the way to move Michigan forward. We will keep fighting like hell to protect reproductive rights.”

Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II echoed this sentiment, highlighting the tireless efforts of Michigan’s leadership. “Since the Dobbs decision, Governor Whitmer and I have fought tirelessly to protect abortion access in Michigan,” he said. “Thanks to the efforts of so many leaders and advocates, not a day has gone by in which Michiganders could not access abortion care. With other states and national leaders are threatening national abortion bans, we know there is still more work to do. We will continue using every tool in our toolbox to protect reproductive freedoms and help more people reach their full potential right here in Michigan.”

This continuity is crucial in a landscape where reproductive rights are under continuous attack. However, the fight is far from over. Legal challenges to reproductive rights are ongoing, with extreme partisan plaintiffs pushing cases through favorable courts to dismantle protections on a broader scale.

The implications of living in a society where individuals do not have the right to make decisions about their own bodies are profound. A lack of reproductive autonomy can lead to a cascade of negative effects on women’s health, economic stability, and overall well-being. Women are forced to carry pregnancies to term against their will, impacting their physical and mental health. The lack of access to abortion and other reproductive services can trap women in cycles of poverty, as they are less able to pursue education and career opportunities.

For Black women, the impact is even more severe. Black women already face significant health disparities and higher maternal mortality rates. The inability to access safe and legal abortion care exacerbates these issues, putting Black women at greater risk. Reproductive rights are fundamentally linked to racial justice; without control over their reproductive health, Black women are further marginalized and disenfranchised.

In Michigan, the fight to protect reproductive rights has led to significant legislative and policy changes. In June 2022, Governor Whitmer filed a motion urging the Michigan Supreme Court to consider whether the state constitution protects the right to abortion. This move was a preemptive strike to safeguard reproductive rights at the state level. By April 2023, Michigan had repealed its 1931 abortion ban, a draconian law that would have severely restricted access to abortion care had it been enforced.

Further legislative actions have been taken to protect reproductive rights in the workplace and healthcare settings. In May 2023, a law was signed prohibiting employers from discriminating against women who have had abortions. This protection ensures that women do not face economic retaliation for their reproductive choices. Additionally, in November 2023, the Reproductive Health Act was enacted, repealing medically unnecessary statutes that had criminalized healthcare providers, raised costs for patients, and restricted access to abortion.

The Michigan Family Protection Act, signed in April 2024, legalized surrogacy and protected access to IVF, recognizing the importance of reproductive alternatives. This legislation is part of a broader effort to ensure that all Michiganders have access to comprehensive reproductive care, regardless of the political climate in other states.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to maintain access to medication abortion and rejected attempts by anti-abortion extremists to roll back advancements in how medication abortion is provided. Despite this ruling, access to mifepristone remains limited, with state bans and restrictions still standing.

“As relieved as I am about the ruling, this case never should’ve made it to the Supreme Court,” said Sen. Erika Geiss (D-Detroit). “The fact that it did shows just how fractured the reproductive rights landscape is and just how determined anti-abortion forces are to disrupt and deny people’s reproductive freedom. Despite this ruling, many pregnant people in the country will still lack access to medication abortion due to state bans and restrictions on telehealth. Protecting access to medication abortion is essential because it provides a nonsurgical option and is helpful for those living in rural communities. Furthermore, those who can become pregnant deserve to be given the power and freedom to make their own medical decisions, without outside judgment or interference like this ruling attempted to do.”

Mifepristone, a safe and effective medication used in more than half of all abortions, has been FDA-approved for over 20 years. Despite its track record of safety, it has become a target of anti-abortion politicians and judges in recent years, with 15 states banning the use of telehealth for medication abortion.

Last year, Sen. Geiss joined over 600 lawmakers across 49 states in submitting an amicus brief calling on the U.S. Supreme Court to review this case and reject a lower court ruling that would have undermined the FDA’s authority and reversed over 20 years of advancements in care. These lawmakers mobilized as members of State Innovation Exchange’s (SiX) Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council.

“Dismissing this case doesn’t reverse the damage that courts and anti-abortion extremists have already done,” said Jennifer Driver, Senior Director of Reproductive Rights at State Innovation Exchange. “For over a year, our judicial system has left people confused about what their options are when it comes to medication abortion, an incredibly safe and effective method for abortion care. While the Supreme Court did the bare minimum today, we know anti-abortion extremists aren’t stopping any time soon. We are clear-eyed about the future – the fight for abortion access is in the states, and we must recognize the power state legislators hold when it comes to protecting care. We’re working hand in hand with state legislators to secure and protect abortion access so that people on the ground can get the care they need.”

Michigan has some of the strongest protections of reproductive healthcare in the country.

Additionally, Sen. Geiss led the repeal of Michigan’s outdated 1931 abortion ban in 2021 after Proposal 3, enshrining the right to abortion in Michigan’s constitution, was passed by voters in November 2020.

“Cases like this remind us that while these accomplishments in Michigan are monumental, they can be challenged and are contingent on preserving access to reproductive healthcare for all,” said Sen. Geiss.

The progressive stance Michigan has taken contrasts sharply with states that have moved to ban abortion and restrict reproductive rights. This difference highlights the critical importance of state-level protections in a post-Roe America. Michigan’s efforts provide a blueprint for how other states can defend and expand reproductive rights in the face of federal rollbacks.

For all women, especially Black women and women of color, these protections are vital. They offer a measure of security and autonomy in a time of uncertainty and regression. Michigan’s approach ensures that women can make decisions about their bodies and their futures without government interference. This autonomy is not just a matter of health; it is a matter of justice and equality.

Looking forward, the continued fight for reproductive rights in Michigan and beyond will require vigilance and activism. The political landscape remains volatile, with ongoing attempts to undermine reproductive freedoms. It is essential to build and support coalitions that advocate for comprehensive reproductive health care, including access to abortion, birth control, IVF, and surrogacy.

The path ahead is challenging, but the progress made in Michigan offers hope. It demonstrates that with concerted effort and unwavering commitment, it is possible to protect and expand reproductive rights. As we reflect on the two-year anniversary of the Dobbs decision, it is clear that the fight for bodily autonomy is far from over. We must continue to advocate, organize, and push for policies that ensure every person has the right to make decisions about their own bodies.

Nikki Giovanni’s words remind us of the strength and resilience required to navigate these challenges. The art of being a woman in this context is not just about hiding pain; it is about transforming that pain into action and advocacy. It is about demanding justice and equality, not just for ourselves but for future generations. The fight for reproductive rights is a fight for our fundamental freedoms, and it is a fight we must continue with unwavering determination.

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