What You Need to Know About Michigan’s Anti-Choice Bill

In mid-December of 2013, Michigan passed a new anti-choice bill. Amid the sea of anti-abortion measures that Michigan already has in place, you may be wondering what new restrictions the pro-life sector could have come up with. In short, this bill prevents insurance – both public and private – from covering most abortions, except for women who purchase an extra rider on their plans. The only exception is when the mother’s life is in danger. Governor Snyder vetoed the bill, but it was allowed to pass anyway due to a petition led by the anti-abortion activist group Right to Life.

The bill is controversial for a number of reasons. First of all, it further restricts women’s access to what many believe should be standard women’s health care. The bill is particularly harmful to women in lower income brackets, who make up the majority of women seeking abortions. For many of these women, no insurance coverage means no abortion.

The kicker is, even if you’re pro-life, the bill has a patently misogynistic flavor. With this law, insurance will only cover abortion if the woman had the foresight to buy the extra package. It reflects a mindset that women should be able to anticipate whether they’re likely to have an unplanned pregnancy, based on their sexual practices.

But here’s a newsflash, Right to Life: unwanted pregnancies are not planned. The way I see it, this bill is scary for three reasons:

1. It sends a clear message to women who get pregnant as a result of rape: if you didn’t plan ahead and get insured for the possibility of being sexually assaulted, the pregnancy is your problem.

2. It assumes that unwanted pregnancy only results from irresponsible sexual behavior, completely ignoring the fact that crises of health or finances can turn a planned pregnancy into an unwanted one.

3. It punishes women for being sexually active for reasons other than procreation. The state doesn’t require men to plan ahead for any unwanted pregnancies they may cause – this law targets women specifically.

Unfortunately, this is part of a national trend in women’s reproductive health policy. As you can see in the graph above, the states have accumulated a mountain of abortion restrictions over the past two decades, especially in the last three years. Eight states besides Michigan already have laws that restrict insurance coverage for abortion. Last year alone, 22 states made 70 new restrictions on abortion. These included targeted regulation of abortion providers (making providers jump through hoops to stay in business), bans on abortion, and curbing the use of medication abortion. While a few states have moved to make abortion more available, the overwhelming trend is in the opposite direction.

If you live in Michigan, I can’t tell you whether you should buy one of the new abortion riders, or even whether they’re available to you – it turns out that in Michigan, many insurance providers don’t even offer them. But I can tell you that this bill is bad news for women, whether you believe women should have free access to abortions or not. We can help fight back against laws like this one by keeping informed, spreading the word, and voting for laws and representatives that will protect the rights and dignity of women. Women should not be punished for unwanted pregnancies, and this should not be tolerated.

More background on the law and how it was passed here

Colleen Smythe
University of Michigan

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