Michigan has recently been thrust into the national spotlight, now that state lawmakers have approved a measure requiring women to buy a separate insurance rider for abortion coverage. That restriction has been widely decried as a cruel and misogynistic policy, particularly since it doesn’t include an exception for victims of rape. Opponents have referred to it as a “rape insurance” law, emphasizing the particular burden that it places on victims of sexual assault. Pro-choice groups are considering a petition drive to attempt to repeal it.
That’s certainly been an effective messaging strategy to rally opposition to the legislation. A lot of people are fired up about “rape insurance.” But Michigan is hardly the only state that bars women from using their insurance plans to cover abortion care. It’s not even the only one that doesn’t make any exceptions for rape victims. On the contrary, this is actually quite a common policy on the state level.
First of all, it’s important to understand that restricting insurance coverage for abortion is an extremely popular method of cutting off access to reproductive rights. This type of indirect barrier to abortion access doesn’t seem as dramatic as a sweeping ban on abortion, and that’s why it doesn’t tend to grab as many headlines. But make no mistake: The anti-choice community is serious about making this type of reproductive care too expensive for most women to afford. Since an abortion procedure can cost anywhere between $300 and $10,000 out-of-pocket, one of the easiest ways to price individuals out of their abortion rights is to prevent them from using their health insurance to pay for it.
Low-income women in the country already face this reality. Thanks to the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars aren’t allowed to fund abortion, so most poor Americans can’t use their publicly-funded health insurance to cover an abortion. Thirty two states and the District of Columbia follow that federal standard for their state-based Medicaid programs. Many of these women simply don’t have the means to pay for the full cost of ending a pregnancy, and some end up being forced to carry their unwanted pregnancies to term.
And this type of abortion restriction has been steadily advancing in the private insurance market, too. North Dakota first banned private insurance coverage of abortion in 1979. Idaho, Kentucky, and Missouri placed restrictions on private abortion coverage in the 1980s. None has an exception for rape victims.
With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, which establishes state-run private insurance marketplaces, abortion opponents saw a new opportunity to restrict insurance coverage. Twenty three states rushed to ban their new marketplaces from offering any plans that include abortion coverage. And several decided to go even further, passing laws that restrict abortion coverage in the entire private market. Since 2011, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah have all enacted sweeping restrictions for women purchasing private insurance.
Of the eight states that restricted private insurance coverage for abortion before Michigan joined them, just one — Utah — has included an exception for victims of sexual assault. The remaining seven states don’t have a rape exception. Technically, they all force women to buy “rape insurance.” There just wasn’t the same kind of public outcry surrounding them.
And lawmakers aren’t finished proposing these types of measures, either. Last month, Ohio lawmakers introduced their own version of this type of legislation. That bill doesn’t have a rape exception, either — and actually goes even further to avoid providing any type of options for women who want abortion coverage. Ohio’s bill doesn’t allow women to purchase a separate rider for abortion services…
The Detroit News had this to say about Michigan’s new law (broken link):
The Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday approved a voter-initiated law that would prohibit basic health insurance plans from covering abortions and avoid a veto by Gov. Rick Snyder.
The Senate voted 27-11 and the House passed the legislation 62-47 mostly along party lines in favor of Right to Life of Michigan’s proposal to require women to purchase additional insurance for abortions.
The law contains no exceptions for coverage of pregnancies caused by rape or incest and will go into effect 90 days after the Legislature adjourns for the year — likely in mid-March. The new law will apply to publicly funded health plans and those covering employees of private businesses.
Mostly Republican supporters defended the legislation as a measure that protects taxpayers from subsidizing the abortions of other people.
Democratic opponents decried the legislation in passionate floor speeches by saying it would require women to purchase “rape insurance” and urged taking the issue to a vote of the people in November 2014 — the other option with voter-initiated laws under the state constitution.
“This tells women that were raped and became pregnant that they should have thought ahead and planned for it,” said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, who fought back tears recalling being raped 20 years ago. “Make no mistake, this is anything but a citizens’ initiative. It’s a special interest group’s perverted dream come true.”…
…Opponents characterized the proposal as government overreach that doesn’t provide general coverage for abortions in cases of pregnancy complications, such as fetal defects and miscarriages to save a mother’s life. State Sen. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit, said requiring women to purchase insurance for unplanned sexual assault is “a perverse idea of ‘personal responsibility.’ ”
The House debate over the change in insurance law also was fierce, with several women in the Democratic caucus vowing to overturn it with a petition initiative of their own. Right to Life of Michigan collected more than 300,000 voter signatures endorsing the initiative and had pressured lawmakers in both Republican-controlled houses to adopt the law before adjourning Thursday for the year.
State Rep. Kate Segal, D-Battle Creek, drew applause when she described the measure as “pure politics,” saying it treats women as second-class citizens…
Among the three House Republicans defending the ban was state Rep. Amanda Price of Holland, who said abortion “is an individual choice.” Price said the ban protects “hard-working Michigan families … from having to pay for someone else’s abortion.”…
…A statewide poll commissioned last month by the bipartisan public relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates found 47 percent of likely voters were opposed to requiring women to purchase additional insurance to cover abortions, while 41 percent supported the initiative…
…Democrats, who pushed for a statewide vote, argued the Right to Life petitions represent the will of just a third of Michigan’s residents…
…The petition circulation was launched after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed 2012 legislation containing the same ban and opposed the voter-initiated proposal.
“He felt it highly inappropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she would have needed to select elective insurance coverage and also that it interferes in the current private market for insurance,” Snyder spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said Wednesday without making any further comment.
Under the state constitution, the governor has no say over the new proposal, which becomes law with passage by the Legislature…
Anti-abortionists realize that they can not outlaw all abortion though a frontal assault on Roe v. Wade, so every few years they cook up innovative ways to make it hard or impossible for a woman to get an abortion. The latest tactic is to use state law to place abortion restrictions/bans in the insurance plans offered through the insurance marketplaces established as a result of the Affordable Care Act.
Abortion was legalized forty years ago, yet anti-abortionists continue to do everything they can to keep women from having an abortion. The battle is far from over. If you have not read, Abortion Facts, Lies, and Contradictions or Ohio Has Turned Into a Haven for Right-Wing Politics, you might find them interesting and germane to this post.