When I was 18, I was raped.
Prior to this month, I could probably count the number of people that knew that about me on one hand. It isn't something I had ever wanted to discuss publicly, much less bring into my role as the leader of the Democrats in the Michigan Senate, but as Republicans in our state were moving to push an offensive new proposal into law that would require women to buy "rape insurance" in the event they were to become pregnant after being sexually assaulted, I felt compelled to speak out for the first time.
I'm one of only four women currently serving in the Michigan Senate and to say there's an "old boys club" mentality in our Capitol Building would be putting it mildly. Yet, as I watched my male colleagues casually sit back, ready to vote on a bill that would have sweeping and damaging impacts on the health of women throughout Michigan without having the decency to even hold a hearing and listen to testimony from those it would hurt most, it was clear that they didn't want to see the faces of those they were attacking with their vote that day.
So, I made the decision to put a face directly in front of them: my own.
Discussing my own story of being raped so publicly was emotional, and while my private life shouldn't be any of my Republican colleagues' business, they demanded it become so by creating offensive laws that tell me and millions of other women across Michigan that they understand our own unique experiences and challenges better than we do ourselves.
I shared my story of being sexually assaulted because even if it wouldn't give my Republican colleagues pause to reconsider the vote they were about to take, I at least wanted them to, for the first time, have to directly consider the consequences of their actions and see that those being hurt by it aren't anonymous faces, but friends, family and, yes, even their colleagues on the Senate floor.
What's too easily dismissed in these types of discussions is that this issue is not simply about pro-choice or pro-life, it is about interfering with contracts between women and our health care providers. This new law forbids private insurance companies from covering abortions unless a woman buys additional and preemptive coverage, even in the case of rape, incest, or even medically necessary dilation and curettage (D & C) procedures for planned pregnancies that went wrong.
This measure is extreme, ignorant and insultingly misogynistic. I'm disgusted to say that it is now the law of the land in Michigan, but how it became law is just as offensive as the law itself.
Right to Life of Michigan, an extremist special-interest group with significant financial backing from a select few secretive donors, has pushed for this law twice before. Both times they failed, as two different Republican Governors stood up to them and vetoed it. In fact, in explaining his veto of this measure earlier this year, Governor Rick Snyder, someone I don't often agree with, rightly stated, "I don't believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage."
But instead of admitting defeat, Right to Life took their crusade even further. They exploited an obscure loophole in Michigan's Constitution that allowed them to bypass the governor's veto entirely, as well as the will of the people, by securing the signatures of only four percent of Michigan's population to bring a so-called "citizens' initiative" before the legislature and then flexed their political muscle over the Republican majority, forcing them to immediately vote it into law.
The very idea that just four percent of the population and a well-financed special interest group can create a law this extreme entirely on their own should scare the hell out of all of us, because now that this Pandora's Box has been opened, we're left to wonder what worse may be coming from it next.
Whether my Republican colleagues lacked the backbones, consciences, or both, to stop it, this proposal and the entire process behind it are an utter insult to Michigan women and our entire voting population. It tells women that we have to guess at whether we will have a complicated pregnancy or whether we or our daughters will be the victims of rape or incest. It tells 96 percent of the population that their voice simply doesn't matter. And it is tells the people of Michigan that their government isn't being run by those we elect to office, but rather by the special interest groups who fund their campaigns.
Sharing my story publicly may not have stopped this law from being passed, but as their goal was to silence women's voices in this debate, my hope is that it will instead encourage more women to speak out and stand up against these continued attacks on our rights and our health.
The outpouring of opposition to this new law from both Democrats and Republicans alike has made it clear that we can ultimately succeed in repealing it. That effort, and this fight, has only just begun.