Michigan joined nine other states this week in rolling back women’s access to abortion, enacting a law that restricts private health insurance plans from covering abortions, and in essence requiring women to buy a separate “rape insurance” policy to cover an abortion should they become pregnant from a sexual assault.
The new law is part of a deepening state-level attack by the right on abortion rights, and the success in Michigan is a worrisome signal that the campaign is gaining traction around the country. The law passed despite the moving and deeply personal story told on the legislative floor by Michigan state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer of her own rape. From The Progressive:
“The fact that rape insurance is even being discussed by this body is repulsive,” she told fellow lawmakers on Wednesday. “And for those of you who want to act aghast that I use a term like rape insurance to describe the proposal here before us, you should be even more offended that it’s an absolutely accurate description of what this proposal requires. This tells women that were raped and become pregnant that they should have thought ahead and bought special insurance for it.”
The senator then described in excruciating detail how she was sexually assaulted over 20 years ago, and how she’s not spoken about it much since then. “If this were law then and I had become pregnant, I would not be able to have coverage because of this,” she said. “How extreme does this measure need to be?”
Whitmer then left the chamber and immediately called her father so he could hear it first from her instead of on the news.
“It was very difficult but I’m glad I did that,” she told MSNBC host Rachel Maddow on Thursday. “The response from women across the state, and across the country frankly, has been amazing.”
The Maddow segment is posted below. And sadly, it’s not like the new measure will have much of a direct impact—because few Michigan women are able to use health insurance to cover the procedure anyway. From ABC News:
Of the roughly 23,000 reported abortions in Michigan last year—the second-fewest in 30 years—health insurance covered 739, or 3.3 percent, according to state statistics.
Low-income women on Medicaid already must pay out of pocket for abortions except when their life is at risk or in cases of rape or incest. Other women may not have insurance that covers abortions or they don’t want their employer or family to find out they’re having the procedure.
A thrust behind the law is keeping taxpayer-subsidized plans on Michigan’s insurance marketplace from covering abortions, an option for states under the federal health care law. With Michigan’s move, 24 states now restrict abortion coverage in plans offered through their insurance exchanges. But the state says none of the 73 plans being offered to individuals covers what the industry calls elective abortions. Three of the 68 small employer plans do.
The initiative’s biggest practical effect will be on plans sold outside the exchange, and the governor cited concerns about government overreach and no exceptions for rape, incest or the woman’s health as reasons for his earlier veto.
Because of a legal maneuver peculiar to Michigan, the governor won’t get a chance to veto this bill. So ultimately the anti-abortion right went far out of its way to pass a law of limited public impact primarily to score political-posturing points. And to affirm heartlessness.