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Michigan passes 'rape insurance' bill

A bill requiring women to purchase separate insurance to cover abortion passed despite Democratic leadership calling it "misogynistic" and "repulsive."
Pro-Choice Supporters Rally In DC Against Restrictive Abortion Laws
People hold up signs during a women's pro-choice rally on Capitol Hill, July 11, 2013 in Washington, DC.

Both chambers of the Michigan legislature have passed a measure banning insurance coverage for abortion in private health plans unless women purchase a separate rider. And because of the way the legislation was put forward, it is set to become law despite the objections of both the state's Democratic minority and the veto of the Republican governor.

In a charged hearing Wednesday, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer told the story of her own rape and called the legislation “one of the most misogynistic proposals I’ve ever seen in the Michigan Legislature," according to the Detroit Free Press. The fact that women are required to plan in advance to have an abortion, Whitmer said, “tells women who are raped … that they should have thought ahead and bought special insurance for it.”

“The fact that rape insurance is even being discussed by this body is repulsive," she added.

"There are people in this chamber who have lived through things you can't even imagine," said Whitmer, referring to a colleague who had a wanted pregnancy that ended in abortion. Then she tearfully told her own story. 
"I'm about to tell you something I've not shared with many people in my life. But over 20 years ago I was a victim of rape. And thank god it didn't result in a pregnancy. Because I can't imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker," she said. Whitmer continued, "If this were law then and I had become pregnant, I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme does this measure need to be? I'm not the only woman in our state that has faced that horrible circumstance.... I think you need to see the face of the women you are impacting by this vote today."   

Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed an earlier version of the bill last year. "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, and, as a practical matter, I believe this type of policy is an overreach of government into the private market," he said.

But Right to Life of Michigan re-introduced the bill through a citizen's petition, which in Michigan can become law through the legislature without the governor's signature. Democrats opposing the bill had argued that the petition signers made up only 4% of the state's voters and that the issue should be put to a state-wide referendum.

Only a small amount of abortions in the state, 3.3%, are currently covered by insurance, according to statistics analyzed by the Associated Press. Studies indicate that women may not know that they can use their insurance to cover abortion, which is often segregated from other medical care, or they may fear of their family or employer finding out they had an abortion. Democratic state Sen. Rebekah Warren told the AP, “The women who are using health insurance to cover terminations of pregnancies often are women who are in their second trimesters or after who have wanted pregnancies where something went horribly wrong." Those procedures are usually the most expensive.

The votes Wednesday added Michigan to the eight states that already have laws restricting abortion coverage in private insurance plans, including those sold on the exchange. Women on the state's Medicaid are already barred from using it to cover abortion except in very narrow cases.