By BROOKE KANSIER
Capital News Service
LANSING — A controversial Michigan abortion law could be repealed if a Democrat-led measure succeeds in the state Senate.
The Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act of 2013 requires women and employers to purchase an additional insurance rider — an add-on to their current plan — to be covered for abortions.
Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., the East Lansing Democrat who introduced the legislation earlier this year, said the law is an unfair burden on women.
“The legislature shouldn’t be trying to decide which medical decisions are right or wrong, which choices are right or wrong,” Hertel said. “I think that it’s sad that the legislature is getting involved in a decision that has been declared legal in this country.”
The law means women have to disclose their preference for abortion coverage to their employers in order to opt in, Hertel said.
“Those decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, not between a woman and her boss or her human resources director,” Hertel said. “No woman should have to talk to her human resources director or boss about her medical needs — especially in extreme cases of rape or miscarriage.”
The abortion rider has been nicknamed “rape insurance,” by opponents, because it is necessary for any kind of abortion coverage, even in extreme cases such as rape or incest. It has been criticized as requiring a woman to plan ahead for rape, because the policy cannot be purchased after the fact.
“No woman knows when she’s going to need this coverage. I’m sure all women, and all families, hope that they never need this coverage,” Hertel said. “But at the same time, they can’t opt in after the situation has happened.”
While the law forbids insurance providers from covering abortion in their typical plans, it also does not require insurers to provide the rider at all.
“If you’re going to keep the ban in place — which we obviously oppose — we could at least be honest with each other that this is a legal procedure, and the rider should be available to all women,” Hertel said. “Currently it’s not.”
According to information provided by the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, only seven of the 42 health insurance plans in the state offer the rider, and those provided are only available to employers — not individual citizens.
Hertel’s repeal proposal is coupled with a complementary bill that would require insurance companies to provide this coverage.
“So, basically, the legislature has to do one of two things,” Hertel said. “Either repeal the law, or provide access to the rider.”
Gov. Rick Snyder, who vetoed the original insurance requirement bill in 2013 because it lacked rape or incest exceptions, said he supported changing the law.
“I stand by my veto,” Snyder said in an interview with Capital News Service correspondents. “I don’t think it was a good thing to do.”
After Snyder’s veto, the group Right to Life of Michigan put together a citizen petition to put the bill again to a vote by legislators. The bill passed a second time and went into effect in March 2014. Hertel said the organization also had the option to put the law up to Michigan voters, but chose not to do so.
“They had that option,” he said. “I think that this sort of extreme law would have been rejected by the voters.”
Pam Sherstad, director of public information for Right to Life of Michigan, disagrees.
“You could say that of any legislation,” she said, citing the over 316,000 citizen signatures the organization garnered to reintroduce the legislation.
“Abortion is not healthcare,” Sherstad said. “The taking of an innocent life does not fall under healthcare.”
Due to the state legislature’s Republican majority and their widespread support of the rider, Hertel’s repeal may not get very far.
“Introducing a bill is different than getting it through the legislature,” Snyder said, “which I think could be a challenging situation.”
While Hertel agreed that there will be a lot of opposition to the bill, it hasn’t deterred him.
“My responsibility isn’t just to get things passed. My responsibility is also to argue what I believe is best for the state and to argue for what my constituents believe in,” Hertel said. “Many of the women across the state have expressed their feelings about it, and we’re going to fight for them.”
By BROOKE KANSIER