A proposal before the state legislature could effectively ban abortion coverage from health insurance plans. Right to Life of Michigan, a group that advocates for restrictions on abortion rights, has collected enough signatures to put the initiative in front of the legislature which could be enacted without the approval of the governor or voters. The proposal poses clear limitations to women’s access to important family planning options, and the nature with which the issue has gone forward undermines the process. Lawmakers should avoid acting on the proposal and wait until the next election to allow voters to decide what should occur.
A state elections board approved Right to Life’s proposal Monday because the organization to collect 315,477 signatures. Now, Michigan’s legislature can either review and vote on the proposal within the next 40 days or allow voters to decide November 2014. Given that the number of signatures collected only represents 4 percent of the state’s population, the process allowed the proposal to gain too much clout within the legislature, especially considering how controversial the proposal is. Last December, Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill, stating at the time that it “just went too far.” Senate Democratic Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D–East Lansing) calls this proposal “one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen.”
Right to Life of Michigan has used the same method in the past to present their interests directly to the legislature. Three successful proposals, passed through the same process, created a ban on abortion coverage by Medicaid for people receiving welfare benefits, a requirement for teenagers to receive parental consent for an abortion and a ban on partial-birth abortions. Former Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, Stupak proposed a similar amendment that would ban abortion coverage by plans in the Affordable Care Act and require people to buy separate policies. The proposal was not approved, but individual states are starting to adopt similar regulations. Twenty-three states have already chosen to opt out of the federal requirement to include abortion coverage in their plans, and eight of the 23 states have extended the ban on abortion coverage to include both public and private plans.
If this privately funded ban becomes law, then a woman would not be able to receive coverage for an abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, with the exception of a life-risking condition — conditions that led to Snyder rejecting the original bill. Instead, specific insurance riders would have to be purchased before pregnancy that cover abortion, meaning the added plan requires people to prepare for unplanned pregnancies and rape — an unreasonable request. These potential added fees would be a barrier to quality health care for low-income women and families, preventing them from gaining appropriate treatment as well as creating a financial penalty for victims.
Considering the importance of this issue and the consequences it poses, the proposal should not go through the state’s least democratic mechanisms. Michigan should not allow special interest groups to dictate the fate of health-insurance plans. The legislature has the ability to push the proposal to the voters and should do so. Before voting, the legislature and people need to be aware of the harmful effects that approving the proposal can create. Ultimately, the fate of this issue shouldn’t be relegated to 4 percent of the population.