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Abortion rights advocates won’t attempt repeal of Right to Life-backed insurance rider law

Rick Pluta
Michigan Public Radio

A coalition of abortion rights advocates will not try to immediately repeal a Right to Life-backed state law that requires women to buy a separate health insurance rider to cover abortions.

“Our efforts and our resources are better spent on a broad strategy to address this growing frustration that is about more than just one issue in one discrete moment in time, but about the larger impact of politicians using women as target practice,” said Rana Elmir, Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

“But through our conversation, through our research, one thing that we have seen is that there is growing anger and frustration in Michigan with regards to the government overreach into women and their family’s private lives,” she said.

The law was passed in December. It goes into effect in March.

Right to Life collected more than 300,000 signatures supporting the law, allowing the Legislature to pass it without Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature. He had vetoed it in the past.

Michigan’s Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act (find language here beginning on page 6)requires women to buy a separate insurance rider for abortion coverage. It makes exceptions if the woman’s life is threatened, but not for rape or incest. Opponents have dubbed the coverage “rape insurance.”

The law will likely impact a very small number of public and private insurance plans. It will not impact women covered by self-funded plans or Medicaid. Women on Medicaid are already required to pay out-of-pocket for elective abortions. It is covered when their life is at risk or in cases of rape or incest.

According to state statistics, there were about 23,000 reported abortions in Michigan in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available. That’s the second-fewest number of reported abortions in the state in 30 years. Of those, health insurance covered 739, a little more than 3%. (Michigan Radio's Mark Brush created a chart tracking Michigan's abortion rate over the years – check it out here.)

A spokesman with Michigan’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs says plans that do provide elective abortion without a rider won’t need to be changed as soon as the law takes effect on March 13. They would need to come into compliance once they are renewed.

Insurance companies haven’t said much about the details of how they’ll come into compliance.

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the state’s dominant insurer, has not said how or if the law will change its plans. BCBS has said it will work within the law.

Dave Waymire, a spokesman for Michigan Association of Health Planssaid most of the insurers MAHP represents expect “no dramatic changes.” He says most of the plans that cover elective abortions in a separate rider intend to continue doing so.

The ACLU’s Rana Elmir couldn’t say if the broader strategy the coalition will work on instead will include referendum efforts.

“I think it’s too early to say. I think it’s a multi-year, multi-faceted strategy and it’s going to combine all of the strengths of coalition partners moving forward,” she said. She expected more details of the strategy to come out in the coming weeks.

Elmir says the larger groups in the coalition include the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, but include a number of men, women and groups “who believe that women should be equitable partners in politics and have a voice at the table. It’s about them having control of the agenda moving forward.”

“Unfortunately when Right to Life wins, women lose in Michigan,” Elmir said. She wouldn’t say Right to Life has ultimately won, but believes they’ve been able to set the agenda in Lansing. That’s something the coalition wants to change.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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