The impact of petition: Reproductive Freedom For All (RFFA) can make a difference
Michelle Zukowski-Serlin talks about reproductive activism and the motivation behind it.
Michelle Zukowski-Serlin heard moaning from another room and found a woman lying in a pool of blood. The woman had just tried to give herself an abortion in a shelter for women trying to escape domestic violence. This was before Roe V Wade was passed in 1973, and at this time, abortion was illegal in Michigan.
Michelle worked at a women’s domestic violence shelter during college. After that event, she told herself she would work to make sure situations like that never had to happen again. That traumatic event sparked a lifetime of reproductive activism for Michelle.
When she went to school for her master’s degree she interned at Planned Parenthood and has been volunteering with the organization ever since. For the past 35 years, she has also been a therapist and counseled thousands of women who have survived sexual assault and domestic violence.
Michelle spent this spring and summer collecting signatures for the Reproductive Freedom For All (RFFA) ballot initiative. RFFA seeks to amend the Michigan state constitution to create a new right to reproductive freedom which will keep abortion and contraceptive access legal in Michigan. If an amendment is passed by voter referendum, it is difficult to repeal.
Michigan has a 1931 law on the books which outlaws abortion unless the life of the mother is in danger. Critics of the law say this is insufficient because the law is vague and a mother would have to be in imminent danger of dying. Preventative measures to save the mother before pregnancy became a medical emergency would likely not be allowed under the 1931 law.
Most people associate restrictive abortion laws with women with unwanted pregnancies. However, women who want their pregnancies or want to become pregnant are also impacted.
“We are fighting for the lives of women, you can not get a tubular(ectopic) pregnancy removed until someone determines you are near death and then it might be too late. [The 1931] law threatens IVF. People don’t really think about that,” said Michelle.
The 1931 law was recently struck down by the Michigan Court of Claims, but appeals are expected. Republican candidate for governor Tudor Dixon has gone on record saying she would work to create new abortion restrictions in Michigan if elected.
For Michelle, petitioning was a family affair. Her husband Troy and her daughter also petitioned alongside her.
“Troy is good with people, talking to them and he is really empathetic. For my daughter it was a tougher sell to get her to petition; she is much more introverted. But she was into it because she felt her rights were being taken away,” said Michelle.
The best part of petitioning for Michelle was talking to people.
“I like people honestly, I think the best part was the overwhelming response we got from people wanting to sign, especially after Roe (was overturned),” said Michelle.
The response to the petition significantly increased after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade. Hundreds of people came to sign the petition at farmers' markets and other signing events all across the Kalamazoo area.
What would Michelle say to people who want to get involved?
“I would say work on RFFA and work on making sure that people are elected that would support reproductive freedom. Our state supreme court is the most important candidate you can vote for right now. They may be making decisions about all these freedoms. We need to make Michigan a state where people are safe.”
This story is part of a project called Democracy Day, in which media organizations across the country are shining a light on threats to democracy and how people are involved in our democracy.