Mich. Lawmakers Vote To Bar Abortion Coverage in Most Health Plans

December 12, 2013 — Both chambers of the Michigan Legislature on Wednesday approved a ban on most abortion coverage in private and public health plans, clearing the way for the measure to take effect in March, the Detroit Free Press reports (Gray, Detroit Free Press, 12/11).

After Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) vetoed similar legislation last year, Right to Life of Michigan launched a citizen petition drive to put the proposal before the Legislature. Under the state constitution, the measure will become law 90 days after the legislative session ends, without the governor's signature (Bailey/Wisniewski, Reuters, 12/11).

On Wednesday, both the House and the Senate considered the bill at the same time. The Senate passed in it a 27-11 vote, while the House approved it 62-47. Both chambers split almost entirely along party lines, with most Republicans supporting it and most Democrats voting against it (Detroit Free Press, 12/11).

The legislation does not apply when a woman's life is in danger or to Medicaid, which must cover abortions in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. Individuals and employers will be able to purchase separate riders to cover abortion. However, the bill prohibits the purchase of the riders if a woman already is pregnant, even if the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape. Further, employers will be able to choose whether to offer the riders in their policies, which might leave some women without the option of purchasing one (Women's Health Policy Report, 12/9).

Potential Impact

Supporters of the law framed it as a step to prevent health plans in the state's health insurance marketplace, launched under the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), from covering abortion. In passing the measure, Michigan becomes the 24th state to enact additional restrictions on plans offered through their marketplaces.

However, Michigan officials have noted that none of the 73 plans being offered to individuals in its marketplace cover most abortions and that only three of the 63 plans offered to small business do. As a result, the measure's largest impact likely will be on plans obtained outside the marketplace (Eggert, AP/Miami Herald, 12/11).

Wednesday's Debate

Democrats argued that the lawmakers should put the proposal on the ballot for voters to decide during the November 2014 election. They noted that only 315,477 people -- about 4% of the state's voters -- signed the Right to Life petition.

American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan spokesperson Shelli Weisberg said opponents of the measure will begin a petition initiative to repeal the law. Polling by the group in state legislative districts represented by Republicans found strong opposition to the legislation, according to the Free Press (Detroit Free Press, 12/11).

State Rep. Vicki Barnett (D) said, "Republicans are once again catering to the whims of special interest groups," adding the state's women must now "plan ahead for 'rape insurance' in case the absolute worst happens" (Reuters, 12/11).

House Republicans argued that without the measure, Michigan taxpayers would be subsidizing abortion coverage. State Rep. Nancy Jenkins (R) said, "I don't think elective abortion should be a part of insurance." She added, "This doesn't affect access to abortion. It will still be legal when this law takes effect" (Detroit Free Press, 12/11).