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Michigan ‘rape insurance’ measure passes

Stephon Johnson | 12/19/2013, 2:17 p.m.

It just got a lot harder for women in Michigan to seek proper reproductive care.

Last week, both chambers of the Michigan Legislature passed a measure that banned coverage for abortion in private health insurance plans for women unless they purchased a separate rider and it doesn’t include victims of rape. Due to the way the legislation was introduced, despite the opposition and objections of Gov. Rick Snyder and the state’s Democratic minority, it will become law.

The Senate passed the measure on a 27-11 vote and the House passed it on a 62-47 vote. The law will go into effect 90 days after lawmakers adjourn for the year.

The passage of this law affected one particular state official in a significant way. During a state legislature meeting, before the votes took place, Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer gave a speech where she admitted that she was raped in college 20 years ago.

“As I was considering what to say in opposition to the rape insurance proposal in front of the Senate today, I made the decision to speak about my own story publicly for the first time ever,” said Whitmer during her speech. “It was the story of the time I was raped while in college. It’s something I’ve coped with privately for many years now, but I felt it was important for my Republican colleagues to see the face of the women they’re hurting with their actions today.

“Thank god I didn’t get pregnant as the result of my own attack,” Whitmer continued, “but I can’t even begin to imagine now having to think about the same thing happening to my own daughters.”

Other women legislators told personal anecdotes to demonstrate that abortion isn’t just about unplanned pregnancies, they’re also about ending wanted pregnancies because of diseases and genetic disorders found in developing fetuses and the possible risk of death in the mother-to-be. State Rep. Colleen Lamonte recalled a painful miscarriage she had during week 12 of her pregnancy.

“I would have been denied this procedure. Or we would have had an expensive medical bill that would have bankrupted us,” said Lamonte. “This is an issue that should be openly debated. Please don’t silence the voices of the people in our state.”

However, pleas like hers and Whitmer’s fell on deaf ears. Despite the bill being initially rejected, Right to Life Michigan re-introduced the bill through a citizen’s petition. (In Michigan, a bill can become law through the Legislature without the governor’s signature if introduced through a citizen’s petition.) Democrats argued that the petition signers made up only 4 percent of the state’s voters and a state-wide referendum should decide the bill’s fate.

But Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing didn’t mind the process or the results. In a released statement, she claimed victory for what was right.

“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,” said Listing.”This law is instrumental in preserving our long tradition of protecting the conscience rights of Michigan citizens before the Affordable Care Act takes full effect in 2014.”

But Michigan isn’t alone in finding roundabout ways to denying women the right to choose. North Dakota was the first state to ban private insurance coverage of abortion in 1979 while Idaho, Kentucky and Missouri instituted restrictions in 1980. None of those states have exceptions for rape victims. Over the past two years, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah have passed similar measures. Of the states that recently passed measures similar to Michigan’s, Utah is the only one that includes an exception for victims of sexual assault.

Due to the Hyde Amendment, federal dollars aren’t allowed to fund abortion. With abortions costing anywhere between $300 and $10,000, not having health insurance cover the procedure leaves women with no choice but to carry the baby to term.