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Legislature approves abortion insurance law
LANSING — Republican legislators passed a law Wednesday to ban almost all abortion coverage from health insurance plans in Michigan — unless an additional policy is bought, ignoring Democrats' pleas to allow a statewide vote instead.
The citizens' initiative approved by the House 62-47 and Senate 27-11 — almost entirely along party lines — will become law in March without the signature of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who vetoed similar legislation a year ago. Anti-abortion group Right to Life collected more than 300,000 signatures to put the legislation before lawmakers, who had 40 days while in session to vote on their own or leave it to voters to decide next November.
Michigan employers and residents would have to buy extra insurance known as a rider to cover almost all abortions, though such riders won't have to be offered by insurers. Their primary plan will pay only if an abortion is needed to save the woman's life but not to protect her health or in cases of rape or incest.
The law won approval after emotional debates on the chamber floors, which included Democratic female legislators telling personal stories in opposition to what they called "rape insurance" legislation that is among the most misogynistic they have seen.
Trying to hold back tears, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing disclosed that she was raped more than 20 years ago.
"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. "If this were law then and I had become pregnant, I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme, how extreme does this measure need to be?"
Democrats said 4 percent of Michigan's population shouldn't be able to dictate health care for women, a reference to the number of people who signed the petition to bring the issue to lawmakers.
A thrust behind the law is keeping taxpayer-subsidized plans on Michigan's new insurance marketplace from covering abortions, an option for states under the federal health care law. Yet the state says none of the 73 plans being offered to individuals covers what the industry calls elective or voluntary abortions. Three of the 68 small employer plans do and are sold by one insurer, United Healthcare Life Insurance Co.
The law also applies to employer and individual plans, a reason the governor last year vetoed similar legislation tucked into a broader bill. He cited concerns about government overreach in requiring supplemental policies for abortion coverage in private plans and a lack of exceptions for cases of rape and incest.
"As a result of this citizen-initiated legislation, Michigan will continue its strong record of protecting taxpayers from financing another person's elective abortion," said Rebecca Mastee, policy advocate for the Michigan Catholic Conference. "The passage of this measure will help to reinforce Michigan's standing as one of the strongest pro-life states in the country."
Twenty-three states restrict abortion coverage in plans offered through their insurance exchanges, including eight that prohibit private plans from covering the procedure. Seven of the eight, except Utah, allow consumers to purchase supplemental abortion coverage for a fee, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.
Abortion is legal under the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision from the U.S. Supreme Court.
In January, the American Civil Liberties Union ended its legal challenge to a Kansas law restricting private insurance coverage for abortions. A federal judge had ruled that the ACLU failed to provide evidence that the Legislature's predominant motivation in passing the 2011 law was to make it more difficult to get abortions.