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Controversial 'rape insurance' bill to cover abortions passed by Michigan

Published time: December 12, 2013 23:38
Edited time: December 13, 2013 00:13
Michigan state Capitol.(AFP Photo / Bill Pugliano)

Michigan state Capitol.(AFP Photo / Bill Pugliano)

The Michigan Legislature has passed a ban on abortion coverage in private and public insurance plans, requiring women to buy an extra policy before becoming pregnant. The bill provides no exception for rape, incest, or fetal anomalies.

The law, to take effect in early 2014, was passed Wednesday in both chambers of the Michigan Legislature and is protected by a rarely used legislative loophole which effectively insulates the measure from the governor’s veto power.

Opponents have equated the policy to “rape insurance,” as a woman would not be eligible to purchase the insurance rider once pregnant - regardless of the circumstances. The only exceptions to the policy are for a woman’s health in the case of miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, or “to avert her death.”

“You couldn’t buy a rider once you were pregnant to have [an abortion] covered,” Meghan Groen, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, told RH Reality Check in November. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, I was raped and so now I’ll buy this rider.’ Nobody is anticipating being a victim of crime.”

A similar bill was vetoed last year by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who then called the proposal “too extreme.” In 2000, former Gov. John Engler also vetoed a similar bill.

This time around, an uncommon procedure allowed in the state’s constitution was used to circumvent Snyder and an overall referendum that would require the initiative to reach Michigan voters.

The anti-choice group Right to Life Michigan used the obscure provision, which says that a proposal can go directly to the Legislature if three percent of state residents sign in support of the initiative. The House and Senate can then pass it without the possibility of the governor’s veto - if both chambers act within 40 days of the state canvassing board’s approval of the initiative’s validity. Right to Life submitted 315,477 signatures, more than the required 258,088.

The legislative initiative provision has been used only four times in the state’s history; three of those times were by Right to Life Michigan.

The Michigan Senate passed the bill 27 to 11, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting in support. The House approved the law by a vote of 62-47, with all Republicans, two Democrats, and one Independent supporting it.

“This is a huge government overreach and Right to Life went too far again,” said state Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D), according to the Detroit Free Press. “Do not underestimate the power of a lot of angry women and the men who support us. A yes vote puts you on the wrong side of history.”

But one Republican supporter said women are not monolithic on the issue.

"I respect the seriousness of the emotions. I went through an unplanned pregnancy. I've counseled people who've been raped that has resulted in pregnancies…,” said Rep. Margaret O'Brien, the AP reported. “But I've also seen women who've embraced those babies through rape and seen that that child shouldn't be punished for the horrendous act that happened to them."

Republicans said the move was legal and that signatures came from residents in all 83 state counties. They also claimed the measure makes sure abortions are not subsidized by taxpayers, though Groen pointed out that “it’s illegal in federal and state law for any taxpayer dollars to go toward abortion,” nor do federal dollars pay for abortions in the Affordable Care Act’s new insurance exchanges.

Michigan is the 24th state to ban most coverage of abortion care within the new insurance exchanges. Only eight other states have insurance restrictions as tough as Michigan’s new law.

During the debate over the bill, state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) spoke out against the proposal, revealing that she was raped while in college 20 years ago.

“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 said, according to AP. “If this were law then and I had become pregnant, I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme, how extreme does this measure need to be?”

In late November, a statewide poll found that a narrow majority of likely Michigan voters said they opposed the effort to demand women buy an abortion coverage rider, the Detroit News reported.

Opponents to the law in and outside the Legislature have said they will soon begin efforts to overturn the policy via their own petition drive, the Detroit Free Press reported.