Supporters called it “The Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act.” Opponents referred to it as the “rape insurance” bill. Whichever name you use, the new measure that passed in Michigan will make it impossible for a person’s private insurance plan to cover an abortion under almost every circumstance – even in cases of pregnancy as a result of sexual assault – unless a separate rider is purchased.
Michigan is by no means the first state to require a separate rider for abortion coverage for insurance policies, and in fact joins eight other states that separate out elective abortions. In many of these cases riders don’t technically exist, and it’s unclear if Michigan will be any different.
However, Michigan’s “Opt-Out” act is groundbreaking, not just in the way that the measure was passed – by a 300,000 signature citizens’ petition and ratification by the House and Senate, rather than a bill that could (and last year did get) vetoed by the governor – but because it became a vocal and public debate revolving around whether or not a pregnant rape victim should be forced into giving birth.
It’s a move that was intentional. Assisting Michigan Right to Life in the campaign to gather signatures and pressure lawmakers into a vote rather than allow it to go to a statewide vote was anti-abortion activist Rebecca Kiessling, spokeswoman for Save the 1. Launched shortly after the 2012 elections, Save the 1 advocates for the removal of “rape exceptions” from all abortion restrictions, and especially from the Hyde Amendment, the federal law that currently forbids Medicaid or any form of public funds to be used to pay for an abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or if the pregnant person’s life is in danger.
Kiessling, a Michigan native, is also an anti-abortion speaker whose activism is framed around her personal story of being conceived in rape and given birth to by a mother who sought but could not procure an illegal abortion. “No child deserves to be punished for the crimes of their father,” Kiessling testified in favor of the no-exceptions insurance ban in early December. “I was protected by Michigan legislators who recognized that mine was a life worth saving. I owe my life to those laws.”
As of March, when Michigan will no longer allow insurance to cover abortions when the pregnant person was sexually assaulted (especially if insurers don’t actually offer riders, as many states haven’t), the state will be in an interesting position. If you buy private insurance with your own money, abortion will not be covered unless it is literally a matter of life or death. However, those who are on Medicaid would be able to obtain an abortion if they were raped, because the federal law allows that exception via the Hyde Amendment.
In other words, you have more health care coverage options through Medicaid than you do when you pay out of your own pocket.
If that sounds unfair, that is exactly what Kiessling and her allies intended. Once rape exceptions are removed from everyday, personally purchased and paid for insurance, allowing Medicaid recipients to use their insurance for an abortion seems unjust. Removing “extra care” is obviously the next thing to go, and the precedent is already there.
The Hyde Amendment has been in effect since 1976, and in the beginning pregnancies as a result of rape weren’t covered by insurance. That changed in 1977, and pregnancies that were conceived as a result of sexual assault were covered until 1982, when the rape exception was once again more removed.
In 1993, an exception for rape and incest was once again allowed, and has remained in place ever since. Yet as more candidates for office come out as “pro-life with no exceptions,” more lawmakers are entering Congress who may be willing to fight to remove that exception during each year’s reauthorization process.
With the amount of effort going into trying to stop insurance plans overall, and more specifically Medicaid, from paying for an abortion for a rape survivor, you would think that these abortions were a frequent occurrence. The Center for American Progress reported in 2005, however, that Medicaid very seldom reimburses even for those abortions that should be officially covered by Hyde.
“At least 9,100 abortions each year are attributed to pregnancies that occur because of forced sexual intercourse, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute,” wrote Stephanie Poggi of the National Network of Abortion Funds. “Yet, the vast majority of states that only cover abortion under the narrow exceptions report zero payments in any given year.”
Even Kiessling admits that the number of abortions being covered under Hyde’s rape exception in Michigan is miniscule. “Under the Hyde Amendment, 20 years ago they added a rape exception,” Kiessling told Fox News in a debate following the bill’s passage. “Then it became a mandate, so that states like Michigan, who had a complete ban on governmental funding on abortion were then forced to pay. So there is about 4 or 5 abortions every year that Michigan pays for of children conceived in rape.”
Despite their insistence otherwise, the removal of the exception, both in insurance coverage, the Hyde Amendment — and beyond — isn’t just about their conscientious objections to abortion funding. The real need to remove “exceptions” from every bill is to better bolster their challenge Roe v. Wade, which they say is undermined by the allowance of exceptions in any scenario. “Under Roe v. Wade, footnote 54, in the discussion of personhood the court pointed out that because Texas had exceptions, it undermined the state’s whole argument for personhood, because if you have exceptions, you don’t really believe the unborn are persons. When all aren’t protected, none are protected,” Kiessling explained in a 2012 article at World Net Daily.
With Michigan as a chance to hone their talking points, expect 2014 to usher in a serious, aggressive push to reverse the Hyde Amendment’s rape exception once more. If that happens, you can be sure that full-fledged demands for “personhood” from the moment of fertilization won’t be very far behind.
Robin Marty is a freelance writer, speaker and activist, and the author of Crow After Roe: How Women’s Health Is the New Separate But Equal and How to Change That. Robin’s articles have appeared at Rolling Stone, Bitch Magazine, Ms. Magazine, In These Times, Truth Out, AlterNet, RH Reality Check and other publications.