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ACLU of Michigan sues state over Medicaid abortion ban

Jodi Westrick
Michigan Public
The lawsuit would overturn a state ban on Medicaid funding for abortion, which the plaintiffs argue violates the constitutional amendment voters passed in 2022. But opponents say it would effectively force Michigan taxpayers to subsidize abortions, regardless of their personal beliefs.

The ACLU of Michigan is suing to overturn a ban on state Medicaid funding for abortions, attorneys said Thursday, arguing it violates the constitutional reproductive rights amendment voters passed in 2022.

“The choice not to be a parent is irrelevant if obtaining an abortion is financially out of reach,” said Susan Rosas, CEO of YWCA Kalamazoo, the plaintiff in the case. “By not covering abortion services, Medicaid is ignoring the will of Michigan voters, just as it's ignoring the autonomy of Michigan women. In so doing, the state is controlling what women can do with their bodies.”

It’s the latest effort by abortion rights advocates to remove the restrictions still on the books, and define what, exactly, the sweeping language enacted in Proposal 3 actually means for patients. By banning Medicaid coverage for abortions, the state is essentially creating two tiers of abortion access, the complaint argues: one for those who can afford private health insurance (which is allowed to cover abortion) and another for those who can’t.

YWCA Kalamazoo’s reproductive health fund has covered the costs of abortion for some 150 Medicaid enrollees in fiscal years 2022 and 2023, according to the complaint. That money, they argue, could be funding other services that would improve maternal and infant health, like doula services and free or low-cost childcare, if the state didn’t single out abortion with this gap in coverage.

The ban is also inherently discriminatory, Rosas argued. Black residents make up a disproportionate share of Medicaid enrollees in Michigan, and Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women in the U.S.

“Abortion care is a right protected by Michigan voters,” she said at a press conference Thursday. “When Medicaid ignores the will of the Michigan voter and arbitrarily restricts access to health care, Medicaid is disproportionately restricting access to care, specifically for people of color.”

The debate over public dollars covering abortions 

But opponents say that removing the ban on state Medicaid funding for abortion would effectively force taxpayers to subsidize abortions, regardless of their personal beliefs.

“Today, abortion-obsessed activists are again appealing to the courts to achieve what they failed to garner support for in the legislative process, now hoping to force Michigan taxpayers, already facing the financial burdens of high inflation, to pay for other people’s abortions through Medicaid dollars,” Right to Life of Michigan President Amber Roseboom said in a statement Thursday.

“Radical activists are appeasing their big money donors and special interest groups while showing complete disregard for Michigan taxpayers and their ongoing, overwhelming opposition to paying for other people’s abortions through taxpayer funded Medicaid dollars.”

More than thirty years ago, Michigan voters passed the Medicaid Abortion Funding Ban, which prohibited the use of Medicaid funding for an abortion, except to save the life of the pregnant person. (Federal funds can’t be used to cover abortions, according to the 1977Hyde Amendment, except in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the pregnant person. But states are allowed to use their own funds for abortion coverage, as 17 states currently do.)

Yet even just last year, Democrats failed to get enough votes from their own party members to repeal the Medicaid ban. That’s why this suit is so necessary, said Bonsitu Kitaba, deputy legislative director of the ACLU of Michigan.

“We will use every single tool in our toolbox to ensure that every Michigander is able to realize the promise of Proposal Three and freely be able to exercise their right to reproductive freedom,” she said. “The Legislature had an opportunity to repeal this harmful and outdated law, and they didn't get the job done. So now it's up to the courts to make sure that this law is struck down. Because it is clearly in conflict with the right to reproductive freedom now enshrined in the state Constitution.”

Earlier this week, a Michigan Court of Claims judge issued a temporary injunction against other abortion restrictions, including a 24-hour mandatory waiting period.

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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