LANSING, Mich. — The Michigan legislature cast their final votes of 2013 Thursday and much like last year, the session is ending with controversy.
Wednesday, state Republican lawmakers largely voted along party lines to approve a ballot initiative that excludes abortion from being offered as an automatically covered benefit in both public and private health insurance plans.
It prohibits insurers from paying for abortions unless a woman has purchased the insurance through a separate rider. The new law also does not provide exceptions in the case of rape or incest.
Both sides are extremely divided on the already controversial issue.
State Representative Brandon Dillon, D-Grand Rapids, voted against the measure.
“I think this is an issue, like many others we debate, that is controversial and emotional. I believe it should have gone to the ballot,” he said.
Dillon said that the bill makes women plan ahead for a potential rape or a severe complication with their pregnancy.
“It has been polling that this is not a very popular proposal. It’s an intrusion in the private market in an unprecedented way and it has nothing to do with taxpayer funding for abortions,” he said.
Democratic State Representative Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, agrees.
She says women who have private plans with their employers will be included in the restrictions. She also said that the decision affects men because there are a lot of men making decisions about policies offered to their workers in different companies and they have an impact on what is available to their female employees.
“It interferes with the private marketplace,” she said. “It makes it riskier and quite a bit more costly for women. I think that this is just an inappropriate way for us to be inserting ourselves into people’s private lives.”
The measure was voted into law Wednesday after Right To Life Michigan gathered just over 300,000 signatures and brought the “citizen’s initiative” before lawmakers.
Democrats feel the group circumvented traditional avenues by using that process.
Legislators could have sent the issue to a public vote in the 2014 election, but state Republicans opted to vote on the measure.
The citizen’s initiative also keeps the issue off of Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. He vetoed similar legislation last year.
State Senator Dave Hildenbrand, Republican representative from the 29th District, supported the bill.
Hildenbrand’s district includes Lowell, Kentwood, Grand Rapids, Cascade Township, Vergennes and Grattan.
He explained why he felt this was a benefit for Michigan’s women.
“It basically, so taxpayers or the public in general aren’t paying for abortions and that has to be a separate rider,” said Hildenbrand. “If people want to have that rider, it has to be their choice to have that and pay for that service if they want that as part of our health plan. So, I think it`s all of us aren`t paying for that service. It`s got to be a separate rider for individuals who would like to purchase that rider.”
He then explained why he didn’t feel that lawmakers were not taking away a benefit from women who were previously covered automatically under their insurance benefits.
“We`re not taking away a benefit. We`re making it be an opt-in provision and there`s only 3% of abortions right now that are covered by private insurance,” said Hildenbrand. “You`re talking about a very small percentage of these procedures and all we`re saying you have to opt-in in order to have this coverage. I think it`s a decent public policy and I supported it.”
Hildenbrand said he wasn’t sure if women would have to pay extra to opt-in for the separate rider.
When asked why Republicans didn’t let this go to a public vote, he said:
“The constitution allows us to have two choices, one to consider in the legislature, or put it before the vote of the people. The senate majority leader made a decision to take it up in the Senate and the House of Representatives so the decision was made and we had a vote on it.”
Democrats are hoping something can be done through another petition drive from those on the other side of the issue to bring about a public vote in the future.
“This is not the kind of issue I think should be decided by 3 percent of the population,” Dillon said. ”It should have gone on the ballot,”
He also commented on why he felt Republicans didn’t send it to a public vote when they had the opportunity.
“I think there was severe pressure from some groups to make sure this got done. I think they saw the same polling we saw. If it did go to the ballot, it would be defeated,” he said.
That new law is scheduled to go into effect in March.