One patient had two toddlers already and was trying to extract herself from an abusive relationship. Another ended up in Michigan after trying to get care in her home state of Ohio; she was handed a Bible at a crisis pregnancy center but no abortion pills. A third thought her childbearing years were behind her and had been looking forward to rejoining the workforce.
All three women sought abortion care at Northland Family Planning Center in Sterling Heights, a city in the metro Detroit area. And all told their stories to reporter Kate Wells as she embedded in the clinic for nine days in August and September. Wells’ story, produced in partnership with KHN, aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” on Nov. 3. (The story includes audio of one woman’s abortion procedure that some listeners may find disturbing.)
Northland was started in 1976 by Renee Chelian. She had undergone an illegal abortion at age 16, back in 1966, seven years before Roe v. Wade. In recent months, patients have been traveling to Northland’s three locations from Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma, even as far as Florida and Texas.
But abortion rights in Michigan are far from certain. So far, courts have blocked enforcement of a 1931 law that bans the procedure with no exceptions for rape or incest. But the judicial wrangling has been confusing. On Aug. 1, for example, rapid-fire court rulings meant that abortion in Michigan was legal at breakfast, illegal at lunchtime, and legal once again by dinner.
Michigan voters decide Nov. 8 whether abortion stays legal in the state. What’s known as Proposal 3 would explicitly enshrine in the Michigan Constitution the right to abortion, as well as other reproductive rights.