By Amanda Grigg
The Michigan legislature just passed a bill banning all insurance plans in the state from covering abortions unless the women’s life is in danger. The bill was passed as the result of a citizen-initiated legislative petition, a process that makes me question this whole democracy thing. Because the bill was initiated by a citizen petition, it isn’t subject to approval or veto from the Governor – this is key for proponents, because a similar bill was vetoed just last year. Thanks to the magic of citizen-initiated legislation, 315, 477 people, or about 4% of Michigan’s voters were able to circumvent the Governor’s objections by putting veto-proof legislation before lawmakers.
According to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute Michigan is joining 23 other states that have restricted abortion coverage in plans offered through Obamacare insurance exchanges and an
elite hair-pullingly-infuriating group of 8 states restricting coverage of abortion in all insurance plans offered in the state.
As with most of the recent attacks on reproductive freedom, this bill is predicted to disproportionately impact low-income women, who are much less likely to be able to afford the $500 or $600 required to pay for the procedure out of pocket. Of course under the 1977 Hyde Amendment banning Medicaid coverage of abortion, many low-income women are already required to pay out of pocket. And even the terrible no good very bad Hyde amendment includes exceptions in cases of rape or incest.
Proponents framed the bill as an effort to ensure that those opposed to abortion would not be “paying for it.” As Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing explained:
“Michigan citizens do not want to pay for someone else’s abortion with their tax dollars or health insurance premiums.
So, barring an injunction and referendum vote (which will happen, lady haters to the left) women in Michigan will have to buy a separate abortion insurance rider before they become pregnant in order to have the procedure covered. It’s like flood insurance, but for your uterus/reproductive rights/basic human agency.
If this leaves you like…
You aren’t alone. In fact, you’re in the same boat as self-declared pro-lifer and avowed Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who vetoed the bill last year saying that he does not “believe it is appropriate to tell a woman who becomes pregnant due to a rape that she needed to select elective insurance coverage.” Opponents of the bill have taken a similar line in arguing against it, emphasizing the fact that abortions in case of rape are not covered so, women will have to purchase the rider to insure themselves in case they’re raped.
Calling the bill “rape insurance” is smart because it draws attention to the fact that any woman capable of conceiving is harmed by this bill, regardless of whether she might otherwise imagine herself needing an abortion. It gets around the “I’m not one of thoooose women” problem. It also focuses on what is seemingly one of the most sympathetic cases for abortion, and one for which exceptions have been carved out in many laws restricting access. Problematically, this strategic focus on rape (which is pretty common in reproductive rights battles) can reinforce the idea that there is a clear division between “good” and “bad” abortions and that the line encompassing good/acceptable/sympathetic abortions falls somewhere just beyond rape.
So, that’s what’s going on. Now, a few things the current debate and the emphasis on “rape insurance” doesn’t address but should.
First, pro-lifers think they have, and are successfully asserting, the right to control their money long after it’s no longer theirs. The justification offered by proponents of the legislation is that they don’t want their money to pay for abortions. Here’s Amanda Marcotte for Slate:
“It’s an argument that assumes if money has ever passed through the pocket of an anti-choicer, they get to retain control over it no matter who else legally has control of it now. This is not how transfer of control of funds works with anything else, as I explain in this week’s podcast. If I give you anything, it belongs to you and not me. But anti-choicers are arguing that when it comes to reproductive health coverage, that rule should be suspended. If they pay an insurance company, then they should retain control over the money that belongs to the insurance company, even when the insurance company is offering a service to another person, who also purchased coverage.”
Second, this kind of group veto of specific uses of public and private funds isn’t tenable in a multicultural democracy. Again, proponents justify the ban by saying that because they oppose abortion, they shouldn’t have to pay for it even in the most indirect ways. Sorry guys, that’s not how living in the world works. Get out of your Veruca Salt bubble and join the rest of us in the land of compromise. We simply can’t let every group with (even a deeply-founded) opposition to something refuse to put their (or any) funds towards it, especially when it’s a vital part of ensuring the health and well-being of others. This is the argument people are making when they say things like, “what if I don’t support heart transplants or blood transfusions?” It’s also part of the immortal Toby Zeigler’s argument for the NEA:
“I don’t know from where you get the idea that taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for anything of which they disapprove. Lots of ’em don’t like tanks… even more don’t like Congress.”
This is a complicated issue which I won’t delve into here (later, I promise!), for now I’ll just say that it’s at the core of these debates and it deserves more attention.
Of course this would all be a lot less complicated if we weren’t talking about abortion, a health issue for which medical authority carries little weight. Exhibit A: Despite the fact that the vast majority of medical professionals would argue otherwise, the Right to Life Michigan President Barbara Listing feels comfortable asserting publicly that:”Abortion is not health care.”
Michigan resident Tamesha Means would probably disagree. And I would argue that the bill does acknowledge that abortion can be an important part of health care by including an exemption for the life of the mother (but please don’t tell Barbara that).
Barbara is also kind of right. Even though abortion is a medical procedure and a part of basic health care it isn’t just about physical health, as feminists have long argued and as opponent’s language of “rape insurance” implies. It’s also about dignity and autonomy and sex equality. That makes it much more complicated to discuss abortion in the context of health insurance than it would be to discuss something seen as purely an issue of health.
On the upside, only about 3% of abortions in Michigan in 2012 were covered by insurance so…nope. Forget that, no upside. Bad to worse.