“Women shouldn’t have to ‘plan ahead’ for sexual assault, or be punished for not ‘prepping’ after being raped,” wrote petitioners seeking to get the bill struck down.
In December, the Michigan State Legislature approved a measure that would require women to purchase additional insurance for a health insurance plan that includes abortion coverage — even in cases of rape and incest.
Without the additional coverage, women would be forced to pay entirely out of pocket for abortion procedures that can cost anywhere from $300 to $3,000.
Scheduled to go into effect about 90 days after lawmakers adjourned for their Christmas recess, under state law, opponents of the “rape insurance” mandate had three months to gather at least 161,305 signatures from state residents who opposed the legislation known as the “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act.”
If the state’s pro-choice advocates are able to reach their signature goal, the mandate will be placed on the 2014 ballot for a statewide referendum. If they fail, the law will be implemented, effective immediately.
The 90 days are up next week, when March begins, and unfortunately, pro-choice and women’s health advocates, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan and the Michigan National Organization for Women, have yet to gather all the signatures they need.
Time may be ticking, but pro-choice advocates have not given up. Several petitions have been created in order to gather enough signatures to prevent the “rape insurance” policy from being implemented. One petition on Watchdog.net, calls the law “extreme, ignorant, and horrifically misogynistic” for “forbidding insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman buys additional preemptive coverage…”
“Women shouldn’t have to ‘plan ahead’ for sexual assault, or be punished for not ‘prepping’ after being raped,” the petitioners wrote.
Conservative crusade against abortion
Although the bill was largely pushed by the state’s majority Republican lawmakers, it was actually a piece of legislation brought to the state lawmakers by the anti-abortion community Right to Life of Michigan, who collected more than 300,000 signatures in favor of such a measure.
“Abortion is not true health care and people who object will not have to contribute their own tax dollars or insurance premiums for elective abortions,” Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said of the measure.
It should be noted, however, that it was the Republican-led legislature’s decision to vote on the measure, which was similar to one it had introduced during the previous legislative session. The GOP lawmakers also opted to not put the measure on the state’s ballot in the fall of 2014, and there are some questions as to whether special interest groups paid to get the signatures needed for the legislature to consider the measure.
While Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder doesn’t always receive support from the state’s democratic-leaning community, even Snyder has expressed concerns about the bill, reasoning that the legislation interferes too much with the private insurance market.
Snyder vetoed a similar measure proposed by the state legislature in 2012, saying, “I don’t believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage.”
The current problem for pro-choice advocates is that Snyder’s signature is not needed on this measure in order for it to go into effect. The governor doesn’t even have any veto powers on this particular measure, since it is a “citizen initiative.”
Though the “rape insurance” law, or rider, sounds like a step backward for women’s rights, if it passed, Michigan would not be the only state with such a law. According to a February 2014 report from the Guttmacher Institute, 23 states have restrictions regarding abortion coverage.
Pro-choice advocates argue that because anti-choice advocates can’t outright make abortion illegal, they are attempting to restrict abortion coverage in the newly introduced private insurance plans offered in the state under the Affordable Care Act.
“Abortion coverage restrictions were a non-issue for an incredibly long amount of time,” Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute said. “That law really encouraged states to go in and pass these abortion coverage restrictions in their own health exchanges.”
GOP political strategist Jeff Timmer, a partner with The Sterling Corp. based in Lansing, Mich., told a local CBS affiliate that democrats are really being put between a rock and a hard place with this measure. They don’t want to lessen women’s access to abortions, but they also don’t want any more focus on Obamacare, which is how Republicans are framing the issue, he explained.
Some pro-choice advocates have caught on to the Republicans’ strategy of blaming the Affordable Care Act for the legislation, including Lori Lamerand, president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.
Last month on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, Lamerand released a statement saying that although women won a major victory some four decades ago, women are currently “‘fighting harder than ever” to protect their right to “make their own personal medical decisions without the interference of politicians.”
Lamerand said that in 2013, some 45 bills were introduced in Michigan alone that would limit women’s access to reproductive health care. She pointed to a report from the Guttmacher Institute that found that since 2010, there have been more than 200 laws implemented in the United States restricting women’s access to abortion.
“In a state where 22 of our 83 counties have no practicing OB/GYN, we all have cause to worry about the direction of women’s health care,” Lamerand wrote. “We know that family planning is not only a personal family issue, it’s an economic one as well. Studies show that women who plan their families achieve higher education levels, higher incomes, and better health outcomes for their children than women facing unplanned pregnancies.
“For every dollar invested in family planning, Michigan taxpayers save $6.37 in federal, state, and local Medicaid costs for maternal and infant care in the first year alone. Family planning is good for couples, and it’s good for Michigan,” Lamerand said, adding that Planned Parenthood will continue to provide “essential, life-saving care … No matter what.”
Whitmer’s fight for women
While the Michigan Legislature appears to have an overwhelming amount of support for a measure that only 36 percent of state residents support, there is one notable voice that has joined the fight in defeating the rape insurance bill: Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer.
Whitmer may not be the only lawmaker or female opposed to the bill, but the Democratic lawmaker, who is one of only four women in the state Senate, shared that she is personally against the measure because she is a rape survivor.
“Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” she said. “And thank God it didn’t result in a pregnancy, because I can’t imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker.”
Whitmer’s courage prompted two of her female colleagues to also share personal stories about how this law would have negatively impacted them. Democratic state Rep. Colleen Lamonte didn’t have an abortion, but the lawmaker said she had a miscarriage when she was 12 weeks pregnant. She said that if she hadn’t had an insurance plan that covered the necessary dilation and curettage procedure, she would have been in trouble.
“I would have been denied this procedure. Or we would have had an expensive medical
bill that would have bankrupted us,” she said. “This is an issue that should be openly debated. Please don’t silence the voices of the people in our state.”
Despite the three lawmakers’ testimonies, their male colleagues opted to pass the measure anyway.
In a blog post, Whitmer wrote that she decided to share her story because she wanted her Republican colleagues to consider the consequences of their actions, and see that this measure would hurt their friends, families and colleagues.
“What’s too easily dismissed in these types of discussions is that this issue is not simply about pro-choice or pro-life,” Whitmer said, “it is about interfering with contracts between women and our health care providers. This new law forbids private insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman buys additional and preemptive coverage, even in the case of rape, incest, or even medically necessary dilation and curettage (D & C) procedures for planned pregnancies that went wrong.
“Whether my Republican colleagues lacked the backbones, consciences, or both, to stop it, this proposal and the entire process behind it are an utter insult to Michigan women and our entire voting population,” Whitmer said.