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Mich. Legislature approves controversial abortion insurance law


By Chris Gautz, Crain's Detroit Business
Posted: December 12, 2013 - 12:00 pm ET
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Michigan legislators Wednesday passed a controversial voter-initiated law requiring Michigan employers and residents to purchase an optional insurance rider to cover an elective abortion.

The House and Senate debated the issue in their respective chambers simultaneously and voted in favor of it 27-11 in the Senate and 62-47 in the House.

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Debate in both chambers was emotional and personal, with members sharing stories of their own miscarriages or difficulties members of their family had with their pregnancies.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing) even disclosed, while fighting back tears during her floor speech, that she had been raped 20 years ago, something she said only a few people knew about.

“It's something I've hidden for a long time,” she said.

Whitmer said she did not get pregnant as a result of the rape and thanked God she did not, because, she said, if this law had been in place, she would not have had insurance coverage.

Under the law, abortions not considered elective are those that remove a fetus that has died, treat an ectopic pregnancy or are performed to save the life of the mother.

There is no exception in the law for rape or incest. Once this becomes law, a woman would have to have already purchased the optional insurance rider, and would not be able to purchase it once she knew she needed the coverage.

Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R-Clayton) said this law will not take away the right to an abortion, but will ensure that tax dollars will not go to help pay for someone else's abortion. Jenkins said women will still have the right to choose, because they can choose to purchase a rider.

Rep. Amanda Price (R-Park Township) said this is about keeping hard-working families from being forced to subsidize someone else's abortion.

The issue was forced upon the Legislature by Right to Life of Michigan, which gathered signatures from across the state this summer using the rare tactic of a voter-initiated law, which becomes law once sufficient signatures are collected and a majority of the House and Senate approve it. The governor does not have the ability to veto it.

Right to Life sought to go this route after Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation last year, saying it interfered in the private marketplace and that insurance companies and buyers of insurance policies should be able to make their purchases without "intrusive government regulation."

Snyder also said then it was not appropriate to tell a woman who is pregnant because she was raped that she needed to have purchased the optional insurance coverage for an abortion before the crime occurred.

The governor still feels the same way.

“It's pretty clear how I felt about the issue,” Snyder told reporters last week. “I don't think it's appropriate.”

Snyder's likely Democratic challenger in next year's gubernatorial election, Mark Schauer, also opposes the law.

“This bill is a shameful attack on Michigan women,” Schauer said in a statement. “The fact is, this legislation will force Michigan women to pay more for health insurance and limit access to critical health care services for women who have been the victim of a crime.”

Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright (D-Muskegon) said Wednesday's vote will affect the 2014 election and several other members said they planned to make sure women across the state know how members voted on this law.

She also said there have been pledges of national support to put a rival citizens initiative on the ballot next year to get rid of this law before it is fully enacted.

With passage Wednesday, the law would take effect early next year, but would not affect the majority of insurance policies until 2015 when policies are renewed. Michigan's law is different than many other states that have passed opt-out provisions for insurance policies offered through an insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act, but also affects private policies businesses offer to their employees.

The business community was largely silent on the issue.

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Manufacturers Association did not take a position on the issue, and their lobbyists said their members were not bringing it up as a concern.

Right to Life lobbyist Ed Rivet said this law will change the conversation with women who go into an abortion clinic. He said rather than the abortion provider asking a woman what insurance they have, they will ask if the woman purchased the optional rider.

“The question will completely change,” he said.

"Legislature approves controversial abortion insurance law" was originally published by Crain's Detroit Business.


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