Michigan rolls back women’s reproductive rights

Detroit — Michigan has definitely been in the public eye recently. The biggest story, of course, has been the Detroit bankruptcy. But women’s reproductive rights are also under attack — and by the same right-wing legislature that made it possible for Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr to take over Detroit, declare bankruptcy and take aim at city workers’ pensions.

The state House of Representatives passed a bill on Dec. 11 that has become nationally infamous as the “rape insurance” law. The law says that private insurance plans available to individuals under the Affordable Care Act cannot include abortion coverage in the basic plan. To get coverage for this health care procedure, a woman — or a parent with a female dependent child — must pay extra for a special rider. In other words, women are being forced to plan ahead for an unplanned pregnancy.

The bill has drawn particular attention because there is no exception for rape. There is not even an exception for incest — also known as family rape. So a woman — who could be one of the 248,000 survivors of a reported rape each year or the hundreds of thousands who do not report the crime — must plan in advance for her worst nightmare coming true. If she does not wish to bear a child conceived through a rape, she must either set money aside for an abortion or buy special insurance.

There is also no exception for the health of the pregnant woman, unless her life is endangered.

The law makes no provisions for women who simply would choose to exercise their legal right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Some pro-choice activists are understandably concerned about referring to the Michigan bill as a “rape insurance” requirement. The bill would still be an infringement on women’s reproductive rights if it did make exceptions for rape, incest and the health of the pregnant woman.

This was the third vote in favor of such a bill. The first two times, it was vetoed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder when even he found it too extreme. This time, members of Michigan “Right to Life” collected enough signatures to place the law on the ballot. Rather than let the voters decide, the legislature opted to enact the bill themselves, which, as a voter-initiated bill, was now veto-proof.

The four state representatives who are women blasted the bill. Gretchen Whitmer came out as a rape survivor. Rashida Tlaib from Southwest Detroit, the first and only Arab-American in the Michigan State House, charged that “we spend more time and money oppressing women in this chamber than helping them thrive.”

This law is by no means the first to restrict abortion coverage. Back in 1977, the Hyde Amendment, signed into law by President Jimmy Carter with the justification that “life isn’t fair,” took away abortion coverage for poor women on Medicaid. Only in 1993 was the law amended so that Medicaid could cover termination of pregnancies in cases of rape and incest.

Recent years have seen a spike in state laws that undermine reproductive rights. The record year was 2011, when 93 such laws were passed; 43 were passed in 2012. Extremists forced through bills in a number of states in 2013; over 300 were introduced. The laws include mandatory waiting periods; forced “education” on adoption options and anti-choice arguments; bans on abortions after 20 weeks and, in North Dakota, just six weeks of pregnancy; strict and hard-to-meet standards for abortion clinics; and laws similar to Michigan’s restricting insurance coverage. Anti-women laws forced 90 clinics around the country to close in 2013.

This pattern is not happening in a vacuum. In Michigan and around the U.S., the same politicians who are passing laws against women are attacking voting rights, unions and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities. Only a mass movement that unites all these issues can stop this political steamroller from rolling over the rights of the people.