OPINION: Women’s reproductive freedom is crucial for advancing climate justice. Now, Michigan must act.

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I’m six months pregnant. My choice to have this baby was made knowing it was the right decision for my family and our circumstances. Having a baby, however, is not right for everyone. 

But after this week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, women in this country, including my future daughter, no longer have a constitutionally guaranteed right to choose when they feel abortion is best for their bodies and their futures.

The loss of reproductive rights by the dismantling of Roe v. Wade has cracked the bedrock foundation it laid for a litany of other rights, including LGBTQ+ rights, contraceptive access, and more. Overturning Roe also undercuts the climate justice movement at the moment when we need women empowered more than ever.

These two issues—reproductive rights and climate justice—are profoundly intertwined.

When women have reproductive freedom and access to safe health care choices, they achieve greater educational success. Research shows that these women are able to invest in themselves, increase their earning power, narrow the gender pay gap, and enjoy more enduring relationships.

Women that are afforded greater educational opportunities also become leaders — in their communities, in policy, and in science. These women have already played a pivotal role in combating the climate crisis, as research shows that when women are in leadership positions, countries adopt more stringent climate policies.

Leaders who advance stronger climate policies are precisely what we need. This is especially true given the most recent findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, demonstrating that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5°C.

However, across America, many women lack the resources and opportunity to lead on climate policy, or even to successfully adapt their families to the demands of the climate crisis. Here in Michigan, over half of those living below the poverty line (in Michigan that’s $17,388 for an individual) are women—numbering 768,861 in our state, according to the 2019 census. 

This gender disparity in socioeconomic status has been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic, as more women than men headed back to the home to care for children during shutdowns. People of color, who already shoulder a greater burden of environmental injustice, will also be disproportionately affected by the loss of reproductive rights – likely including a loss of Black women’s lives.

For low-income families and those already struggling in communities impacted by environmental injustice, a child is a tremendous additional economic burden. In Michigan, the average cost of a baby’s first year alone is $22,000, according to data compiled from the USDA, health insurance companies, and the Economic Policy Institute. Half of women who seek an abortion are at or below the poverty line. Without reproductive autonomy, they will be further removed from the workforce and stripped of education and career advancement opportunities.

There is no doubt that eliminating a woman’s right to physical self-determination will have a corrosive impact on the climate justice movement at large—and likely, controlling and minimizing the power of women is the intent.

Here in Michigan, the consequences of overruling Roe’s precedent are grave. A 1931 law still on our books threatens to ban abortion and punish providers with up to 15 years in prison. Luckily, a preliminary injunction has delayed that law from immediately taking effect until pending litigation is resolved, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed a motion Friday asking the Michigan Supreme Court to immediately take up her lawsuit asking it to protect abortion rights under the Michigan Constitution.

Regardless of court outcomes, it is important to remember that banning abortions won’t stop women from seeking them, it will just stop them from safely accessing them. That is not a reality I want my daughter to face.

But hope is not lost. A new ballot initiative called “Reproductive Freedom for All” would reaffirm Michiganders’ fundamental reproductive rights within the state’s constitution by placing a referendum on the November ballot in Michigan. Michiganders should consider donating to and volunteering with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan or Michigan Voices to ensure that nearly half a million signatures are collected before the July 11th deadline. And in November, please support this ballot initiative and vote for leaders who will strengthen reproductive rights and champion climate justice.

We have a limited window to protect our fundamental reproductive freedoms and we need everyone, especially women, now more than ever. Together, with the power of our ballots, can ensure that all of our daughters are not disadvantaged because of their sex and are afforded the same equal opportunity to create a healthy future.


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