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Stateside Podcast: An illegal abortion at 15 led this woman to a lifetime of activism

A black and white photo. Renee Chelian sits in an office chair in front of a desk. She has short dark hair and is wearing a dark blouse and lighter slacks. Her hand is on her chest and it looks like she is speaking to someone.
Patricia Beck
/
Detroit Free Press
Renee Chelian at her clinic in 1992.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned decades of federal protections for abortion rights.

The decision came as a blow, if not a surprise, to many working in abortion care. People like Renee Chelian.

Her life’s work has been giving women an option to end a pregnancy, but she might not be able to do that work in Michigan much longer.

Chelian runs the Northland Family Planning clinics in Metro Detroit, which have provided abortion services since the first clinic opened in 1976.

Her career in abortion care was inspired by her own experience obtaining an illegal abortion in Detroit in 1966. She was just 15 at the time. It was a dangerous procedure that took place in secret.

Michigan Radio’s Sarah Cwiek and Detroit Free Press editorial columnist Nancy Kaffer talked to Chelian about how that moment that changed her life forever.

Today’s episode was produced by Rachel Ishikawa and April Van Buren.

Reporting from Sarah Cwiek and Nancy Kaffer and editing from Sarah Hulett.

Music in this episode from Blue Dot Sessions.

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April Van Buren
April Van Buren is a producer for Stateside. She produces interviews for air as well as web and social media content for the show.
Rachel Ishikawa joined Michigan Radio in 2020 as a podcast producer. She produced Kids These Days, a limited-run series that launched in the Summer of 2020.
Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Radio in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.