Group Uses Quirk Of Michigan Law To Push Abortion Insurance Restriction

FILE- In a Dec. 12, 2012 photo, the statue of Gov. Austin Blair, the war governor (1861- 1864), is silhouetted against the st
FILE- In a Dec. 12, 2012 photo, the statue of Gov. Austin Blair, the war governor (1861- 1864), is silhouetted against the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich. It?s been 21 years since work wrapped up on a $58 million restoration of the state Capitol, a National Historic Landmark that remains among the most revered sites in Michigan. Some legislators are pushing a five-bill plan, which may win final legislative approval in December, to overhaul oversight of the building and its grounds, make them a state historic site and create a permanent maintenance fund. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Basic insurance coverage for abortions could soon be banned in Michigan, even without support from Republican Governor Rick Snyder.

A petition seeking to enact a law that would restrict abortion coverage was certified Monday. Spearheaded by the No Taxes For Abortion Insurance committee of Right to Life of Michigan, they received over 315,000 signatures from Michigan voters, with nearly 300,000 certified by the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. They needed 258,000.

If passed, the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act will require women to purchase separate riders to cover elective abortion, and abortions could not be covered under basic health care plans. Employers will be compelled to notify employees if they have purchase a rider.

In the bill language, abortions deemed necessary to avert the death of the woman and treatment for women who experience miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies are not considered "elective," and so could still be covered under basic insurance. There is no exception for rape or incest.

The Right to Life of Michigan group has in part posed the issue as a question of choice over how residents' money is spent.

“Michigan citizens do not want to pay for someone else’s abortion with their tax dollars or health insurance premiums," Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said in a statement Monday. "Abortion is not health care; abortion kills a living, developing human being.”

By law, federal and state funding can only be used for abortions in cases of life endangerment, rape or incest.

Critics of the legislation say it may cause problems for doctors and hospitals as well as women who may wish to have abortions, particularly those who are victims of a crime. You wouldn't be able to buy a rider after becoming pregnant to have an abortion covered, Meghan Groen, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, pointed out to RH Reality Check, a news site about sexual and reproductive health and justice issues.

“It’s not like, oh, I was raped and so now I’ll buy this rider," Groen said. "Nobody is anticipating being a victim of crime.”

Under a quirk of Michigan law, the petition allows for the act to be passed by a simple majority vote of the legislature without Snyder needing to sign. The law would also be referendum-proof.

"It’s unconscionable that Right to Life has launched a campaign against women’s rights by finding a loophole in the law and skirting a signature from the governor,” said Jessica Tramontana, communications director for liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan, in an October statement. “The president of Right to Life went as far as describing this extra insurance like buying coverage for a 'flood or a car accident.' Rape is not an accident."

If it does not pass, the measure will go to voters to decide and will appear on a statewide ballot next year. If so, the legislation could be nixed: In an August poll, public relations firm Lambert, Edwards & Associates found 50 percent of likely voters disapproved of the measure, while 42 percent approved, with a sampling error of plus or minus four percent. Six hundred voters were surveyed statewide.

But a majority of members of both the state House and Senate already signed the petition, according to the Detroit Free Press, and similar legislation was approved by legislators last year. It was vetoed by Snyder at the same time that he passed other legislation enforcing new regulations for abortion clinics and doctors.

"It just went too far," Snyder said last December about the bill he vetoed.

Eight states have laws that restrict private insurance coverage of abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advances sexual and reproductive health and rights.

The state House and Senate have 40 business days while in session to act on the measure. The legislature goes on winter recess on Dec. 12.



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