More than 350 women and allies of Planned Parenthood of Michigan descended upon the capitol city on Tuesday to exchange ideas, collaborate and discuss the need to come together in the current political climate, especially for the state’s upcoming elections in 2018.
“We’re fighting back to help protect one another, doing exactly what we think we ought to be doing in this country to make sure people get what they need,” said Lori Carpentier, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. “No matter what gender you are, no matter what zip code you live, no matter what God you worship, we’re going to stand with you.”
One of the highlights of the event was drawing attention to the lack of women’s healthcare facilities in the state.
“Every county in Michigan has a veterinarian, but only a third have an OBGYN,” said Libby Drerup McGaughey, vice president of advocacy and community education for the organization.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization advancing sexual and reproductive health rights, there were 29 abortion-providing facilities in Michigan in 2014, and 20 of those were clinics. That represents a 29 percent decline since 2011 in overall providers, and a 33 percent decline in clinics from 2011 (when there were 41 abortion providers overall, of which 30 were clinics).
The day kicked off with a closed member meeting and breakout sessions through the early afternoon regarding reproductive health issues PPAM advocates for. The main event came about mid-day when the group marched to the Capitol Building and held a rally on the state capitol steps.
Several organizations, elected officials and gubernatorial candidates had a presence at the event, including the National Organization for Women, the campaign to end gerrymandering known as Voters Not Politicians, and Democratic gubernatorial candidates: Shri Thanedar, Gretchen Whitmer, and Abdul El-Sayed.
PPAM was clear that it has not yet endorsed a candidate for the 2018 gubernatorial race.
“It’s important now more than ever that we’re ready to take on tough fights. Whether I was a prosecutor or Senate Democratic leader, I never went out of my looking for a fight, but I never backed down from one either,” Whitmer said, recalling that her worst fight was trying to ensure majority Republicans did not pass an initiative pushed by Right to Life that would require women to purchase additional insurance to have abortions covered. Whitmer made national headlines at that time for telling her story of having been assaulted as an undergraduate in college.
She added, “It’s been a long time since we had someone in our corner, and showing up at this event is important. These are great allies that we need to empower.”
Thanedar showed up slightly after Whitmer had left for another event. He marched with the attendees and shook hands after the rally.
On why he decided to attend, Thanedar said, “We are supportive. … I want to make sure we are here in solidarity, that we’re here in support of Planned Parenthood. And we will fight for women’s rights, and we will defeat Bill Schuette.”
He said such events were important because there is a great need for an inclusive Michigan.
“We need to really make sure we make Michigan into a progressive state, make Michigan into an inclusive state, and we need to tone this back,” he said. “The right-wing legislature, the lawmakers have taken things too far, and we need to bring it back and make sure women’s rights are protected, that workers’ rights are protected, minority rights are protected.”
The state of Michigan is home to an estimated 2 million women of reproductive age, which Planned Parenthood of Michigan defines as between 13 and 44. More than 40 percent of the nearly 650,000 enrollees in the state’s expanded Medicaid program, Healthy Michigan, are between the ages of 19 and 35 – Planned Parenthood’s core demographic, according to a handout provided by the group.
The unintended pregnancy rate is a 30-year low, and there is a record low in the teenage pregnancy rate, Planned Parenthood said. And that’s exactly why the services provided by Planned Parenthood – which include sex education, access to contraception and funding for family planning services, in addition to abortions – are so necessary, the organization said.