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How anti-abortion forces are hijacking the legislative process in Michigan
After the governor vetoed a bill to ban abortion coverage, activists brought it back through a petition
 
Anti-abortion activists' petition may freeze out Snyder.
Anti-abortion activists' petition may freeze out Snyder. (Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

A year after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder vetoed a similar bill, it's looking increasingly likely that the Great Lakes State will ban insurance coverage of abortions even without his support.

Anti-abortion activists in Michigan have gathered enough signatures to force state lawmakers to take another vote on restrictions that would prohibit insurance companies from paying for abortions even in the cases of rape and incest. If the measure passes — which it most likely will since both the House and Senate have large anti-abortion majorities that signed the petition — it won't need the governor's signature to become law. A rarely-used procedural maneuver found in the state's constitution allows the petitioners to bypass Snyder.

Michigan's Secretary of State certified that abortion opponents had collected 299,941 signatures — about 40,000 more than they needed to send the petition to the state house where it will receive an up-or-down vote. Lawmakers have 40 days to vote, but if they don't take any action, the question will be put to voters as a ballot initiative in 2014.

The new law would essentially mean that women have to purchase an abortion rider in advance if they want the procedure to be covered. But the law would also allow for employers to opt out of providing even the rider, leaving some women without any recourse. Critics have decried the ban for making women anticipate rape. State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer has called the proposal "one of the most misogynistic proposals I have ever seen in the Michigan Legislature."

Depending on how this plays out, Michigan could be the ninth state to enact such a sweeping prohibition on abortion that affects both private and public insurance. (More than 80 percent of plans include abortion coverage.) Fifteen other states don't allow for abortion to be covered on plans offered through the health exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act.

In a way, this fight is just a continuation of the battle that took place in 2010 as federal lawmakers hashed out how abortion would figure into health care reform. Anti-abortion Democrats, including Michigan's own Rep. Bart Stupak, threatened to derail the legislation if it used public funds to pay for the procedure. Stupak offered an amendment that would have forced women to buy a separate policy rider, but eventually signed onto a compromise that allows states to circumvent the federal requirement that insurance plans include abortion coverage. (He also got President Obama to agree to an executive order promising that abortions would not be covered by tax dollars under the Affordable Care Act.)

Last December, Snyder signed a bill that requires abortion clinics to follow the same regulations as hospital operating rooms and prohibits doctors from prescribing first-trimester abortions without seeing the patient. But, the governor vetoed a companion measure he himself proposed to convert Blue Cross Blue Shield into a non-profit in Michigan because he felt the final draft's restrictions on abortion insurance went too far.

"When I proposed these reforms, there was no reference to abortion," he said at the time. "Regrettably, those provisions were later added. 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."

 
Laura Colarusso
Laura Colarusso is a freelance journalist based in Boston. She has previously written for Newsweek, The Boston Globe, the Washington Monthly and The Daily Beast.

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