- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2013

Adding to a growing movement in the states to press for new restrictions on abortion, Michigan this week became the latest state to require women to purchase their own insurance riders if they want coverage of elective abortions in their future health-care policies.

The move is hailed by pro-life supporters, who brought the issue to the Michigan lawmakers through a “citizen-initiative” process this year. Eight other states have passed similar statutes.

The law means “no person is forced to fund the deliberate taking of an innocent human life in the name of health care,” said Barbara Listing, president of Right to Life of Michigan. “Abortion is not true health care; abortion kills a living, developing human being.”

But opponents — including Democratic lawmakers who talked about their personal histories — said the measure, which passed largely on party lines, was “extreme.”

“Over 20 years ago, I was a victim of rape,” Democratic state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer said during the debate. The attack didn’t result in a pregnancy, she said, but if it had happened under a law like this, “I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme. How extreme does this measure need to be?”

Another lawmaker spoke of needing an abortion to complete a miscarriage, while others talked about other kinds of problematic pregnancies.

Republicans, including State Rep. Amanda Price, defended the measure, which was requested in a petition signed by 315,000 Michigan voters and is aimed at “elective abortion.”

No matter how the issue is framed, “abortion is an individual choice,” said Ms. Price. “As such, it is up to each individual to make the decision how they will pay for such procedures.”

Backers of the measure said it doesn’t block insurance-covered abortion care for women in several situations, including miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or stillbirth. It also doesn’t affect situations where, “in the physician’s reasonable medical judgment,” a pregnancy must be terminated “to avert” the woman’s death.

But the law’s omission of “rape” and “incest” as covered reasons for abortion, though, caused opponents to sarcastically dub it “rape insurance.”

Pro-life groups countered this by bringing forward Rebecca Kiessling and other adults conceived during a rape, but who lived because their mothers did not get abortions. “No child deserves to be punished for the crimes of their father,” Ms. Kiessling, director of pro-life group Save the 1 told a news conference this month.

It is, in fact, common practice for women to pay for part, or all, of an abortion’s costs, which in 2009 was about $470 for a first-trimester procedure. In Michigan, for instance, a state agency found that 739 abortions — or 3.3 percent out of 23,000 annual procedures — were covered by health insurance.

This is because private insurance policies don’t always cover abortions, and sometimes women choose not to use their policies to pay for an abortion, research done by the Guttmacher Institute has found. In federal programs, the institute noted, the Hyde Amendment has long prevented taxpayer funds from paying for abortions, although in 17 states, state Medicaid funds are used to pay for abortions for low-income women.

In Michigan, the Republican-led chambers easily passed the abortion measure Wednesday evening. In the Senate, two Democrats and an independent voted with the majority, 27-11. In the House, one Democrat joined the Republicans to pass the bill, 62-47. The law goes into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns this month.

Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and Oklahoma already allow patients to purchase abortion-coverage riders and an eighth state, Utah, will let general insurance plans cover the procedure in certain circumstances, according to Guttmacher.

A lawsuit against the measure is not imminent. The votes just happened this week, “and I think people are still reeling,” Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, said Thursday. Still, pro-choice allies will be investigating “all their options to figure what’s the best way to try to reverse this dangerous vote,” she added.

A petition drive to repeal the law is a possibility: Shelli Weisberg, spokeswoman for ACLU of Michigan, told the Detroit Free Press that opponents will meet soon to plan such a petition drive. “There will be another initiative to overturn this abhorrent act,” State Rep. Sarah Roberts told the newspaper.

Dr. Matt Allswede, an obstetrician-gynecologist in Lansing, said the law creates a “gray zone” of concern for health care providers. If a patient needs an abortion, he said, the provider will have to see if her situation “triggers the exception.” If not, they will have to find out if there’s a prepurchased rider, “and if not, explain the costs.”

There are going to be dicey situations when the fetus is potentially viable, he said, adding that there could be fines and legal issues if providers make a wrong move.

As an OB-GYN, “99 percent of our job is really wonderful. But 1 percent of it can be pretty awful,” said Dr. Allswede.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.