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Why we need to confront the Anti-Abortion Cartel in West Michigan, and other strategies outside of the political duopoly

May 16, 2022

There was a recent article at the online independent news site, The Intercept, entitled, A “WOODSTOCK” FOR RIGHT-WING LEGAL ACTIVISTS KICKED OFF THE 40-YEAR PLOT TO UNDO ROE V. WADE.

This article provides an excellent overview of the origins of the anti-abortion movement in the United States, a movement that is rooted in religious fanaticism. The author of the article is Ilyse Hogue, who also wrote the book, The Lie That Binds, from which the article was taken. The article looks at the group the Federalist Society and a more recent organization, the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is mostly a group of lawyers who claim to defend individuals and entities on religious grounds, when in fact they are really committed to imposing Far Right Christian values on the rest of society.

Since the “leaked” Supreme Court document, I have been thinking about the West Michigan version of the 40-year war against abortion and who are the major players in the Greater Grand Rapids area, institutions and individuals that have played a major role in attempting to undo the legal framework of Roe v. Wade.

Churches and other Religious Institutions

Beginning in the late 1980s, the antiabortion attacks certainly escalated in Grand Rapids. Operation Rescue, the anti-Abortion group led by Randall Terry, came to Grand Rapids on several occasions beginning in the late 1980s. Protests and efforts to stop women from choosing to have an abortion were intense and often confrontational, as you can see from this Grand Rapids Press article above. 

There are literally hundreds of churches in West Michigan that embrace an anti-abortion stance, some evangelical, some Christian Reformed, along with the Catholic Church. Many of these churches would include information about protests and other so-called Pro-Life actions happening in Grand Rapids, Lansing or in Washington, DC. 

As a more centralized entity, the Catholic Church has been firm on its stance against abortion. The Catholic Bishops in Grand Rapids since Roe v. Wade became law, have been consistently conservative on social issues, particularly on abortion. This means that there is entrenched opposition to abortion, with a structural mechanism to disseminate information around the issue of abortion and how people can become actively involved in opposing it. Catholic Church bulletins regularly include information about Right to Life rallies or action alerts on upcoming votes at the state and federal level as it relates to the issue of abortion.

There is also the Christian Reformed Church and while it is less centralized than the Catholic Church, their position on abortion has also been consistent in their opposition since 1972.

Then there are the numerous Evangelical Churches and independent churches, which are part of the larger Religious Right Movement in West Michigan. These churches have also consistently opposed abortion and have taken part in rallies and action to oppose reproductive choice. One example is The Ridge Covenant Church, where the pastor does regular video, such as this one, where he condemns abortion. 

In addition to churches, there are other religious institutions that have also been part of the anti-Abortion movement. The Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty has not only been opposed to abortion since their founding in 1990, they regularly provide analysis and information on their website that condemns abortion and endorses legal action, like their support of the Alliance Defending Freedom. The Acton Institute led the charge to endorse Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Amy Cone Barrett, who has been part of the Catholic group known as People of Praise, which believes that women should be subordinate to men.

Other religious entities that have provided support for the anti-abortion position is the Catholic Radio station, Holy Family Radio, which is 1140 AM and 98.3 FM in Grand Rapids. This radio station amplifies the anti-abortion positions on a regular basis and includes as one of its underwriter, Right to Life.

Funding the anti-Abortion Movement

Additionally, there are thousands of religious people in West Michigan that make regular contributions to Michigan Right to Life. More importantly, there are several members of the West Michigan elite that have collectively contributed millions of dollars to anti-abortion groups and other “family-values” organization that want to keep women in a subordinate role in society, which also means they do not want women to have bodily autonomy. In Russ Bellant’s book, The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, he cites the DeVos family, Peter Cook, the Prince family, the Van Andel family and the DeWitt family as major funders of the anti-abortion movement. Many of these same families continue to make significant financial contributions to anti-abortions groups like Right to Life.

These families fund anti-abortion efforts in two ways. First, they collectively have provided millions of dollars to political candidates and to the Republican Party, which has consistently opposed abortion and have weakened women’s access to abortion at the state level for the past four decades. The DeVos and Prince families have consistently funded Pro-Life candidates, candidates who have become members of Congress, along with State legislators, thus consistently pushing for policy that weakens access to abortions. According to the Michigan Campaign Finance Network, between 1999 and 2016, the DeVos family contributed $81 Million to the Republican Party.

The Second way that these families fund the anti-abortion movement, is through their foundations. Again, the DeVos family has been consistently the largest funder of the anti-abortion movement from West Michigan, which not only has included funding to groups like Right to Life, it means funding “pregnancy resource centers,” and other groups like Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Acton Institute, the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Council for National Policy, the Federalist Society, Hiilsdale College, and many other groups that include opposition to abortion as part of their work/mission.

We have been tracking the various DeVos Family Foundations since 2013, where they have collectively contributed millions to organizations that oppose abortion.

If the reproductive justice movement is serious about keeping abortion legal and safe in the US, then they need to come to terms with the groups organizing against and bankrolling the anti-abortion movement. Recent rallies have been primarily held at Calder Plaza, but it might make sense for them to hold rallies outside the DeVos family headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids (200 Monroe NW) or the Catholic Diocese/Cathedral location on South Division, just north of Wealthy St. This would not only provide an opportunity to educate people about the Anti-Abortion Cartel in West Michigan, it would force these groups to have to respond to their role in funding hate and harm. 

In addition, of the few rallies that have been held in Grand Rapids in recent weeks, there have been numerous Democratic Party politicians and/or candidates who have spoken and advocated for people to vote Democratic if they want to save Roe V. Wade or minimize the harm being done at the state level. However, advocating for the electoral strategy has not been terribly effective since Roe v. Wade was adopted. Too often we forget that Roe v. Wade was adopted during the Nixon Administration, primarily because of a strong women’s social movement. 

Likewise, the electoral strategy doesn’t always measure up, especially when Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is backing the anti-Choice incumbent Henry Cuellar in Texas, over the more progressive primary challenger Jessica Cisneros. More importantly, as Margaret Kimberly writes on Black Agenda Report, the Democrats have had numerous opportunities to codify abortion rights into federal law, by passing legislation like the Freedom of Choice Act, which the Obama Administration promised to do, but never did.

I will conclude with some insightful analysis by Natasha Lennard, writing for The Intercepted, who says:

Democrats in Congress should have long ago codified the right to abortion access, as the party’s left flank has urged, but they didn’t. If they don’t act now to end the filibuster and pass abortion protection laws, they will deserve something approaching the same level of blame directed at anti-abortion Republicans. 

After Texas passed an effective abortion ban last year, which was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge in December, President Joe Biden vowed to “launch a whole-of-government effort” to protect the right to abortion in the state. We are yet to see any such effort, even though, as I wrote at the time, there are a number of steps his administration could immediately take. 

If — and this really is an if — the fear of a nationwide abortion ban and the shock of Roe’s undoing galvanizes Democratic voters in November, these will once again be votes against a greater evil, rather than votes the Democrats have earned. Just as today’s Democratic Party has refused to take the lead on this issue even as abortion access has fallen apart in so many places, they will not take the lead now. Instead, it is up to us — it always has been. 

Since we cannot rely on Democratic leaders, we must — following the example of organizers on the front lines of this struggle — work around the law, exploiting the coming interstate jurisdictional chaos around abortion law that the end of Roe will bring into even sharper relief. The fight for free and accessible abortions has always required solidarity, risk, and cunning. To keep reproductive justice alive, we must fight on terrain beyond the law, in contravention of certain laws, or in post-Roe legal gray areas.

One such group that is operating outside of the establishment framework is Rise up 4 Abortion Rights.

Sources used for this article:

  • The Religious Right in Michigan Politics, by Russ Bellant
  • Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, by Jane Mayer
  • Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret hub of the Radical Right, by Anne Nelson
  • Spiritual Warfare, by Sara Diamond
  • The Lie That Binds, by Ilyse Hogue 
  • Without Apology: The Abortion Struggle Now, by Jenny Brown
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