Michigan Likely to Pass Abortion Bill Democrats Dub 'Rape Insurance'

Anti-abortion campaigners use a rare, veto-proof tactic to turn the clock back on women’s health care. Bill Pugliano/Getty

Michigan is poised to enact a stringent proposal that would ban health insurance coverage for abortion even in cases of rape, incest, or if the mother's health is at risk, even though the governor has vetoed the law and polls show the majority of voters don't want it to pass.

How could that happen? Thanks to a rare, veto-proof indirect initiative process that the state's GOP has used before to restrict a woman's right to choose.

Republican lawmakers across America are skilled at devising ways to push anti-abortion legislation, whether that means planting sweeping abortion restrictions in a motorcycle safety bill or shutting down clinics due to unnecessary building regulations. But Michigan politicians have a unique maneuver at their disposal: an amendment that allows citizen petitions to move forward without governor approval or a state-wide vote.

If the Michigan proposal becomes law, all public and private health insurance plans would have to offer a separate rider for abortion. Women would have to purchase that rider before knowing they'd need an abortion, and wouldn't be able to buy it after getting pregnant unless it was a matter of life or death.

Senate Democrats called the proposal "misogynistic" and relayed legislative testimony from Jenni Lane of Ann Arbor, who said she was thankful for insurance coverage that allowed her to make the "incredibly difficult" decision to end a pregnancy in which the fetus would not survive. Having the health coverage she needed allowed her to choose the safest procedure.

Only 36 percent of Michigan's registered voters support obliging women to purchase what some legislators have called "rape insurance" for non-emergency abortions through separate riders, according to a recent survey conducted for Inside Michigan Politics. Governor Rick Snyder strongly opposes the measure as well. Last year, he vetoed a bill that turned Blue Cross Blue Shield into a nonprofit mutual insurer after Republicans added optional abortion rider language to the legislation -- another oft-used anti-abortion tactic.

"This is really subverting the democratic process," said Desiree Cooper, of the Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. "It's not the rule of the people, it's not even party leadership. And, of course, it's not supported by the medical community. It's serving a very, very particular interest. "

Eight other states have a similar insurance coverage ban on the statutes, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Another 15 restrict insurance coverage bought through the health exchanges set up through the Affordable Care Act. Seven states have the same indirect initiative process, which Michigan has successfully evoked only five times in its history -- three times to attack women's access to health care.

Right to Life, the anti-abortion group that led the Michigan petition drive, initiated all three: once, in 1987, to ban nearly all abortion coverage under Medicaid; in 1990, to mandate parental consent for abortion with no exceptions for cases of rape or incest; and in 2004, to effectively ban late-term abortion (the latter was later ruled unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court in 2007.)

A minimum of 258,088 valid signatures were needed to move forward with the petition. Anti-abortion activists turned in 315,477 signatures of which 299,941 of were valid, according to the Michigan Secretary of State's elections division.

Since the legislature has conservative, anti-abortion majorities in both the state House and Senate -- most of the members in both chambers signed the petition -- the measure is likely to pass and immediately become law. If they reject or do nothing with the initiative this session, it will go to the November 2014 ballot for a statewide vote. And that's what many are hoping.

"We believe that this measure isn't fair, that it is cruel and intrusive," wrote Detroit Free Press. "To allow hundreds of thousands to subvert the law of the land by larding a legal medical process with special requirements is contrary to the spirit of democracy. So, lawmakers, let Michiganders vote. And let's see what happens."