Michigan women who can’t afford abortions no longer have a choice

Thanks to Right to Life and Michigan Republicans, elective abortion is effectively outlawed for women who can’t afford it.


This is a historic week for Michigan women, and not in a good way. It’s the week the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act becomes law, forcing women to buy a separate insurance policy just in case they might need an abortion one day.

The thing is, not a single insurance company in Michigan offers such a policy, known as a rider, on the private market. So that leaves women who buy their own coverage — either through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace or direct from an insurer — unable to purchase a rider to pay for the cost of an abortion.

According to Michigan’s Department of Insurance and Financial Services, seven insurers told the state they plan to offer abortion riders, but only as part of employer-based insurance plans. No insurance companies will offer these riders to new customers in the private marketplace, said the Detroit Free Press. Then again, insurance offered in Michigan under the ACA (or Obamacare) never included elective abortion coverage, leaving only policies purchased directly from insurers in question. Right to Life of Michigan claims that the point of this new law is to prevent their tax dollars from paying for abortions, something that already wasn’t happening.

But what has happened is this: Women who can’t afford an abortion have had their freedom of choice stripped away because of the extremist views of Right to Life.

In this law, are no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. There are no exceptions to protect the health of the mother, who may suffer permanent damage to her reproductive system and other organs while waiting for an unviable pregnancy to terminate itself — a pregnancy that may have been very much wanted. There are no exceptions to ease the suffering of mothers, families and unborn babies in cases when there’s a serious birth defect. The only exception is a risk to the life of the mother, but until a woman’s life is in danger doctors must stand by and watch the mother agonize while her body goes through the painful process of naturally aborting the pregnancy.

Doctors are forced to violate the oath they took — “First, do no harm” — and watch patients suffer excruciating pain and risk permanent disability, because Right to Life of Michigan said so. They pushed this law through with petition signatures amounting to just 4.2 percent of Michigan’s voters. The Republican-led Michigan Legislature could have left the decision to voters in November, but instead they voted to approve the measure.

Between the actions of legislators and the decision of Michigan insurers not to offer abortion riders in the private marketplace, women must now risk their own health or carry an unwanted pregnancy to term if they can’t afford an abortion. And there are many, many women who will not be able to afford one. The question of whether women can afford prenatal care or continue working to keep food on the table while they’re pregnant is clearly something Right to Life and their supporters could not care less about.

In Detroit, a D&C — one of the procedures commonly used to perform an abortion — can cost anywhere from $450 to $2,500 depending on where it’s performed. That doesn’t account for the cost of a possible hospitalization if something goes wrong before, during or after the procedure. Who will pay for a hospital bill that could run into the tens of thousands of dollars?

I almost hesitate to ask, because right now hospitals can’t turn away anyone in a medical emergency, although in the case of one Michigan woman they did exactly that — sending her home in the throes of a miscarriage until her life was actually in danger. It would not surprise me to see Right to Life of Michigan and other proponents of “religious and moral objection” laws start a crusade to prevent taxpayer-funded emergency care for women who have abortion-related complications.

In addition to the significant risk to women’s health, the law based on this petition is full of vague language and potential misinterpretation, which I wrote about here right after it was passed. Read that post to fully understand how harmful this law is to women’s health, as explained by a practicing OB/GYN. Even doctors themselves are at risk, as pawns in a game to test the limits of a law that’s a blatant attempt to do an end-run around Roe v. Wade.

With the passage of this law, an elective abortion essentially became illegal in Michigan. Unless you have the right employer-provided insurance or the money to pay for it out of your own pocket.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Michigan’s women and the men who stand with them can fight back. One good place to start is by supporting the new Right to Health non-profit organization launched to ensure that Michigan women can maintain access to all the healthcare services they need — not just the ones special interest groups approve of.

Sign up to learn more and hear a message from Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who is working with the initiative, at the Right to Health website.

[Photo credit: Kate Ausburn | Flickr]

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