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LANSING, Mich. — A citizen-initiated proposal that would require separate insurance for abortions landed in the Republican-led Legislature on Tuesday, with both sides immediately pressuring lawmakers to either pass it or leave it to voters.
People who oppose abortion and were born as a result of rape visited the Capitol to tell their stories, saying their lives were worth saving. And Democrats who support abortion rights recounted the story of a woman who terminated her pregnancy after learning her fetus had a brain malformation and was unlikely to survive full-term.
The initiative before the House and Senate would cover abortions under primary insurance plans only to save a woman’s life, but not when her health is at risk or in cases of rape and incest. Employers and individuals could buy a rider to cover abortion services, though insurers and employers would not be required to offer such a rider.
The measure can be passed without the signature of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who vetoed similar legislation last year in part because there was not a rape exception. They are likely to pass the measure within 40 days while in session, but if they don’t, it goes to a statewide vote next November.
“We are people, we are not exceptions,” Mary Rathke, a 34-year-old from Essexville whose birth mother was raped, told reporters in a news conference organized by Right to Life of Michigan.
She accused Snyder of ignoring children conceived in rape but saved most of her ire for abortion rights activists and Democrats who “use people like us to defend abortion being included in everyone’s health care plan.”
Senate Democrats, though, did not back down from their contention that the proposal would require “rape insurance” and is the most “misogynistic” measure they’ve seen.
They recounted legislative testimony from Jenni Lane of Ann Arbor, who said she and her husband were thankful that their insurance covered her hospitalization for an abortion she had after learning her 18-week-old fetus was missing a part of its brain.
The decision to terminate the pregnancy was “incredibly difficult” and “deeply said,” according to Lane’s testimony in February, but the health coverage allowed her to choose the safest procedure.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat, said she respects pregnant rape victims who give birth but “every one of us should have the right to make our own choice.”
“It is extremely illogical to create another burden for women, another hurdle for women, to exercise their health care choice by requiring that they have the foresight to purchase an insurance rider for an unplanned pregnancy,” Whitmer said.
Republican leaders said they have not decided whether to vote on the measure. But it is expected they will pass it as early as this week or next since a majority of the House and Senate signed the initiative petitions that were circulated by Right to Life.
“I would anticipate we’ll have something happen in the next 40 days or so,” said Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, a Monroe Republican, saying he would have a better sense of how to proceed after the GOP caucus Wednesday.
While Democrats questioned letting 3 percent of the population who signed the petition have so much power without a public vote, Richardville said “since when have 3 or 4 percent of the population not been important?”
If the initiative is approved by the Legislature, abortion rights activists could decide to seek a statewide referendum to overturn it.