Michigan Women Fight to Save Abortion, 1 Cat at a Time

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UTICA, Mich. (AP) — At a wine bar in suburban Detroit, a dozen women strategized about how to preserve abortion rights in their state.

It was not a typical political event; there were no microphones, no handouts, and few people considered themselves activists. Among them were a mother of four whose only previous political experience was pushing back to school, a busy medical student and a retired teacher who, at 75, has never felt at home. comfortable knocking on doors or cold calling for a candidate.

“But I am very committed to abortion,” said Mary Ann Messano-Gadula. “Women should be able to take care of their bodies.”

Messano-Gadula, who attended the “Vino the Vote” event in late September with two friends, described herself as the shyest of the group. But she said she planned to do what organizers were asking attendees – post messages on Facebook and text friends to try to get them to support an amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing the right to abortion.

“I’ll give it a shot,” she said.

Across Michigan this year, similar, more intimate events are taking place alongside broader, traditional ballot efforts, with high stakes for abortion rights and the candidates — mostly Democrats — who support them.

Michigan is one of the few places where abortion rights will be on the ballot in November, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June and left the matter to the States to decide. A ban approved in 1931 was suspended and later overturned by state court rulings, but there is no guarantee that the procedure will not ever be banned.

It mobilized people in Michigan, as it has in previous elections this cycle, including in Kansas and New York. And it could have major implications beyond the state.

Michigan is one of the most competitive presidential battlegrounds in the nation. It was also one of the states where former President Donald Trump and his allies tried to overturn his 2020 loss to Joe Biden, falsely claiming the election was stolen. This fall, voters will also decide which statewide offices, including governor and secretary of state, will be in place for the 2024 election.

The gubernatorial race has already centered on abortion. Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the 1931 ban and said she “will continue to use every tool in my toolbox to beat like hell for women and health care providers”. Republican Tudor Dixon, who opposes abortion except to save the life of the mother, criticized Whitmer for his support for abortion without limits and suggested that voters who support the constitutional amendment could vote in its favor and continue to support his campaign for governor.

The issue has already sparked strong interest among voters and pushback from Republicans and abortion opponents. Reproductive Freedom for All, the coalition supporting the abortion rights amendment, has garnered more than 750,000 signatures on petitions to put the issue on the ballot – more than any other ballot initiative in history. from Michigan.

Opponents showed up in force for a meeting of the Board of State Solicitors, the once permanent panel that decides which issues and candidates are eligible for the ballot. With anti-abortion protesters outside the building audible inside the courtroom, the council split along party lines, with two Republicans voting no and two Democrats voting yes. That meant the measure was ineligible for a ballot, but Reproductive Freedom for All appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court, where justices – the majority of whom were appointed by Democrats – ordered that it be put into effect. square.

Red, Wine & Blue, the organization that organized the wine bar gathering, is a member of Michigan’s RFFA coalition. Their strategy is to ask suburban women – a key demographic in recent elections – to contact and talk with friends, family and other acquaintances and ask them to vote.

The model, known as relational organizing, has been used successfully by candidates such as Sen. Jon Ossoff of Georgia, who won a runoff to help Democrats gain control of the U.S. Senate, and Pete Buttigieg , who rose from little-known mayor of South Bend, Indiana, to one of the party’s top contenders for the 2020 presidential nomination.

Greta Carnes, who led Buttigieg’s campaign effort, said she was particularly effective in getting women out of the suburbs and on the often sensitive and personal issue of abortion. The approach is also more effective and efficient, as people can contact dozens of people in minutes via text message, and a voter receiving a message from someone they know is more likely to read and consider it, rather than deleting it.

“Especially on an issue like abortion, we can’t just have activists” knocking on doors, Carnes said.

Lakshmi Vadlamudi, a medical student from Franklin, Michigan, saw firsthand the power of using her personal network when she helped collect signatures to put the issue of abortion on the ballot this summer. She told a few friends she would be in a parking lot one day collecting signatures, and the news spread like wildfire, she said.

Vadlamudi started getting text messages from people wanting her to come to their house so they could sign. Her Indian “aunts” – women she is close to but not related to – wanted to circulate their own petitions. Some had family members in the medical profession and feared the legal repercussions of an abortion if the 1931 ban took effect, while others worried about their daughters or granddaughters. They ended up with 20 completed petitions.

“We had as many as we could get our hands on,” Vadlamudi recalled. “People kept asking,” she says, and the interest in the question didn’t stop.

The Michigan group of Red, Wine & Blue aims to reach 157,000 voters in the state through these “relationship” contacts, according to Katie Paris, the organization’s national director. The group’s Michigan leader, Kelly Dillaha, said she was recruiting 5,000 women to contact their networks and report back to the group on their progress via an app.

Kathy Nitz, a mother of four from Rochester Hills, began working with Red, Wine & Blue after volunteering at her children’s schools, leading the PTA and launching an effort to open schools later in the morning. These issues always seemed like “safe” topics, she said. Talking about abortion, on the other hand, was a bit like saying the word “Voldemort” – the name that characters in the “Harry Potter” books fear would bring great danger if spoken. .

But Nitz grew more comfortable with the subject, even discussing the nuances with her very Catholic and anti-abortion mother. And she thinks those little conversations between women like her could add up.

“What I’ve realized as a suburban woman and a mother myself is that we’re undervalued. We’re underrated and underrated, but we’re also strong,” Nitz said. “We build communities, we create networks. That’s what we’ve always done.”

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Associated Press reporters Aaron Kessler in Washington and Joey Cappelletti in Lansing, Michigan, contributed to this report.

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For full AP abortion coverage, go to https://apnews.com/hub/abortion

Follow AP for full midterm election coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/2022-midterm-elections and on Twitter, https://twitter.com/ap_politics

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