After Lawmaker Discloses Her Own Sexual Assault, Michigan Approves ‘Rape Insurance’ Bill Anyway

CREDIT: AP Photo/Joel Page

On Wednesday evening, both chambers of the Michigan legislature approved a measure that will require women to purchase an additional insurance rider if they want abortion coverage, even in cases when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest. It will take effect 90 days after lawmakers adjourn, making Michigan the ninth state to restrict coverage of abortion on the private insurance market — an increasingly popular method of imposing barriers to the procedure.

Opponents decried the legislation as a “rape insurance” bill, pointing out that victims of sexual assault would be forced to pay out-of-pocket for an abortion procedure unless they had thought ahead and purchased a separate rider. In the lead-up to the vote, State Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) called the bill “one of the most misogynistic proposals” that has ever been up for debate in the legislature, adding that forcing women to consider purchasing extra insurance in case they’re raped in the future is “truly despicable.”

And during Wednesday’s floor debate, Whitmer revealed a personal story to illustrate her opposition to the legislation. The lawmaker tearfully spoke about her own experience with sexual assault, disclosing that she was raped two decades ago.

“As I was considering what to say in opposition to the rape insurance proposal in front of the Senate today, I made the decision to speak about my own story publicly for the first time ever,” the Senate Minority Leader explained. “It’s something I’ve coped with privately for many years now, but I felt it was important for my Republican colleagues to see the face of the women they’re hurting with their actions today. Thank god I didn’t get pregnant as the result of my own attack, but I can’t even begin to imagine now having to think about the same thing happening to my own daughters.”

Watch it, courtesy of Michigan Senate Democrats:

Another Democratic lawmaker, state Rep. Colleen Lamonte, shared the emotional story of a miscarriage she experienced at 12 weeks of pregnancy. Many Americans don’t realize that the medical treatment for miscarriage can fall under the category of abortion care. Lamonte pointed out that if she didn’t have insurance coverage for the dilation and curettage that was necessary to end the doomed pregnancy, her hospital bill could have been unaffordable. “I would have been denied this procedure. Or we would have had an expensive medical bill that would have bankrupted us,” the lawmaker noted.

Nonetheless, those personal stories didn’t sway Whitmer’s and Lamonte’s colleagues. The anti-choice bill passed easily, almost entirely along party lines.

Despite the fact that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) opposes this insurance ban, and actually vetoed it last year, this measure will become law in March without the governor’s signature. That’s because there’s an unusual state law in Michigan that permits “citizen-initiated” votes — so abortion opponents were able to simply circumvent the governor, collecting enough signatures to put the measure back before the legislature. This process ensures that it doesn’t need Snyder’s approval to become law.

“What’s happening in Michigan is part of an outrageous and troubling trend. In just the last five months, politicians in Texas, North Carolina, Ohio, and Michigan have broken or bent the rules to jam through abortion restrictions that the public overwhelmingly opposes,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, noted in a statement. “These extreme restrictions are so unpopular that politicians can’t pass them through the regular democratic process.”

Other states have rushed to enact similar insurance bans over the past few years, but it’s not entirely clear how “abortion riders” will work in practice. For instance, after Pennsylvania passed this type of insurance restriction over the summer, several experts confirmed to RH Reality Check that these riders simply aren’t currently available. “Most of these states that have some kind of restriction on private health plans allow for these riders, but there’s no evidence they exist,” the Guttmacher Institute’s Elizabeth Nash explained.

Even without this additional red tape, insurance coverage for abortion is already difficult to navigate. Low-income women who rely on the public Medicaid program are barred from using their insurance to pay for abortion in most states. And even the women who have private insurance typically end up paying out of pocket for the full cost of their abortion procedure — either because they simply assume it must not be covered, or because they’re worried about someone else finding out. The women who are relying on insurance coverage to pay for this care are typically the women who are having complicated and expensive procedures that involve a hospital stay, like miscarriage treatment.