A Partnership Piece from the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy
As of March 13, 2014, women in Michigan are expected to plan ahead for unplanned pregnancies. Yes, you read that right. The passage of the “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act” in Michigan requires most private and all public health insurance plans to offer a separate rider for abortion, forbidding insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman buys “rape insurance.” Women are forced to purchase a rider for all abortions, even for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and cases where the mother’s health is in danger. Not only is this legislation discriminatory towards women, but it belittles heinous crimes committed against women and prevents access to health care.
The Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature passed the “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act” in December 2013. Governor Snyder vetoed an earlier version of the bill in 2012 after language removing abortion coverage from insurance plans was included in the restructuring of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Snyder vetoed the current legislation because it does not have an exception for cases of rape, also claiming it would intrude excessively on the private insurance market. Following Snyder’s veto, Right to Life of Michigan created a citizen-initiated petition. After receiving the 258,088 required signatures, roughly 4% of the represented population, the proposed legislation was brought back to the legislature and passed in both houses. Being a citizen’s initiative, the measure did not require the Governor’s signature and became law after passage in the Michigan Legislature.
Supporters of this legislation claim it protects taxpayers and anti-abortion policyholders from subsidizing abortions. This issue, however, is not a question of abortion; it is a question of women’s health and economic security. Not only are there no exclusions for cases of rape, incest, and health complications, but these riders will not be available to women after they become pregnant by any means. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the cost of an abortion ranges from $300 to $1,700 for most procedures, and roughly 70% of women pay for them out of pocket. The Michigan Legislature has managed to place an unfair financial burden on women, forcing those who are too poor to pay for an abortion or too scared to report an assault to pay in advance or suffer the financial consequences of remaining uninsured.
These conversations too often become a heated pro-life versus pro-choice debate. The fundamental problem with this legislation, however, is that it saddles women with the outrageous and illogical burden of having to make a financial decision about situations potentially affecting their future health and safety. State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, one of four women in the Michigan Senate at the time argued, “This isn’t talking about someone looking for an elective abortion. This is a woman with a wanted pregnancy who is forced to terminate it because of health concerns and may now face financial ruin for doing nothing more than trying to start a family.” Regardless of one’s views on abortion, this policy and its lack of exceptions for legitimate circumstances belittles women’s health and reproductive rights.
The purpose of an insurance rider is to provide additional insurance and enhance one’s policy to better fit their needs. This legislation, in restricting critical reproductive care in insurance policies, is a direct attack on women and our health. Rape is not something that can or should be anticipated, nor should women be financially penalized for crimes committed against them. I challenge all 62 state representatives and 27 senators who voted in favor of the policy to identify who they believe to be at higher risk and therefore good candidates for said rape insurance.
Additionally, this policy unfairly targets and shames women. There is no policy equivalent for men’s sexual health issues: no insurance rider exists requiring advance payment for STD treatment, erectile dysfunction or vasectomies. Men effectively have sex without consequence, while women give up their privacy and undergo the shame of purchasing a ridiculous, misogynistic insurance rider.
What can we do? In order to pass a referendum, Michigan law requires activists to collect 161,305 signatures within 90 days of the legislature’s adjournment. Not only is this very attainable, but it is significantly fewer than the 258,088 that the pro-life community needed to put this issue up for a vote. We must pressure Michigan legislators to ensure they know this is not a policy we will tolerate. The Michigan Legislature has shamed women; let’s shame the Michigan Legislature right back.