Abortion has been legal in this country for 40 years, but anti-abortion extremists, such as those in Michigan Right to Life, continue their relentless effort to make abortion illegal once again and restrict access to it for now.
Michigan Right to Life’s most recent and despicable attempt to restrict abortion access is a bill passed by the Legislature last week which bars private and public health insurers from including abortion coverage in standard policies. It instead requires women to purchase an unworkable special rider for abortion coverage, which is the practice in eight other states.
This requirement makes no sense, because abortion occurs due to unplanned events. How can any woman pay more money for extra coverage which she can’t anticipate using? Not only does the bill discriminate against women, but it makes no exception for cases of rape, incest or to protect the mother’s health, with its only exception being an imminent threat to the mother’s life. Furthermore, a woman can’t purchase the rider after she becomes pregnant.
Last year, this reprehensible piece of garbage was inserted into a bill restructuring Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan that was passed by the Legislature. It was too extreme for Gov. Rick Snyder, who vetoed the bill for interfering with the private insurance marketplace and not making exceptions for cases of rape or incest.
So in a huge and revolting overreach, Right to Life decided to circumvent the normal democratic process by turning to the rarely used initiative process set by Article II, Section 9 of the Michigan Constitution. An Indirect Initiated State Statute can be sent to the Legislature if a petition drive for it gathers signatures from at least 8 percent of voters in the last gubernatorial election, which amounts to 258,088. The Legislature then has 40 days in which to act, and can’t amend or otherwise change the initiative. If the Legislature does nothing or rejects the initiative, it goes on the next general election ballot. But if the Legislature approves the initiative, it takes effect 90 days after the Legislature has adjourned for the year, and is not subject to the governor’s signature or veto.
Right to Life’s petition drive for the dishonestly named Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act gathered 315,477 signatures, 4.2 percent of Michigan voters. There were no committee hearings or public input before the initiative reached the floors of both houses last week.
Democratic legislators wanted to put the initiative on the 2014 ballot, where polling indicated that it would probably lose. They also put a human face on its likely effects. Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), who called the measure rape insurance, disclosed that she was raped 20 years ago while a college student. She didn’t become pregnant, but would have used abortion coverage if she had. Rep. Collene Lamonte (D-Montague) said she had a difficult and painful miscarriage 12 weeks into a pregnancy, requiring dilation and curettage, which possibly saved her life and certainly saved her ability to have children. The procedure was covered by insurance, but would have been very expensive if not covered.
But in light of the cold-hearted Republican War on Women, with its intrusive invasions of medical privacy, these testimonies fell on deaf ears and the bill passed on virtual party line votes. Senate approval was by a 27-11 vote, with all 26 Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed by 11-1. The House vote was 62-47, with all 59 Republicans voting for it, Democrats voting against by 47-2, and the only Independent voting in favor.
The Republicans displayed plenty of hypocrisy in approving the initiative. They vehemently object to insurance company regulation under the Affordable Care Act, but in this instance told insurance companies what to cover. They recently transferred the Court of Claims from Ingham County Circuit Court, whose judges are elected by 3 percent of Michigan voters, to a panel of Court of Appeals judges assigned by the Michigan Supreme Court, but here passed a veto-proof bill endorsed by a little more than 4 percent of Michigan voters.
This contempt for the democratic process is setting the stage for the 2014 election. Rep. Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores), calling the initiative an “abhorrent act,” pledged to work for a ballot proposal to repeal this atrocity, and planning has begun for a repeal petition drive. We can also expect this issue to be used against Republican legislators who voted for the bill. The Republicans and their anti-abortion backers have gone too far, and may find that they have hell to pay.