Whitmer repeals ‘rape insurance’ law amid long fight for reproductive rights

(Courtesy/Gov. Gretchen Whitmer)

By Kyle Kaminski

December 12, 2023

For the last decade, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pushed for state lawmakers to repeal a law that forces Michigan women to pay extra costs in order to have abortion care covered by their health insurance plans. This week, she sealed the deal.

MICHIGAN—Democratic-led legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will officially repeal Michigan’s so-called “rape insurance” law that has banned insurance providers from offering coverage for abortion care without forcing women to purchase a separate rider.

The legislation—House Bill 4949—marks the final piece in a broader package of bills known as the Reproductive Health Act, which included eight bills that Whitmer signed into law last month.

The bill signed this week will officially repeal the state’s Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act, which Whitmer criticized as “ignorant” and “repulsive” in 2013.

Whitmer said she waited until this week to sign the last law because Monday marked the 10-year anniversary of the passage of the legislation. At the time, Whitmer was a state senator and she gave a speech in which she first shared that she was a survivor of sexual assault.

“I was in the Michigan Senate, fighting against an unconscionable anti-choice bill that would have forced Michiganders to pay extra for insurance every month just in case they were raped or had an unwanted pregnancy,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I shared my own story as a survivor of sexual assault and noted that any decision about a woman’s body ought to be hers alone. Exactly ten years later, I am proud to be repealing that same bill as governor.”

Lawmakers have said that private insurers won’t be required to include abortion care as part of their existing coverage when the law takes effect next year. Instead, it will simply allow them the option to wrap abortion care into their existing health plans without charging a separate rider.

“For decades, politicians bent on eliminating access to safe, legal abortion have enacted a range of laws to further that ambition—from banning the nonexistent practice of partial-birth abortion to requiring people to buy a separate insurance rider to obtain coverage for abortion services,” House Speaker Pro Tem Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia) said in a statement.

The rest of the package of state laws signed by Whitmer last month are set to dissolve other long-standing legal barriers to reproductive care across Michigan—all with the goal of protecting Michiganders’ constitutional rights to access affordable abortion care statewide.

Under the new laws, several targeted restrictions on abortion providers (aka TRAP laws) are also set to be erased from the books in February, including unnecessary and cost prohibitive state rules that have prevented clinics from offering services across rural pockets of the state.

Among other things, the legislation also repeals an old law from 1931 that would have criminalized nurses and doctors for prescribing medication abortion. It also lifts a ban on what Republicans inaccurately call “partial-birth” abortions, which usually refers to the extremely rare dilation and extraction procedure that is performed in the event of miscarriages and fetal anomalies later in pregnancies.

The new laws will also allow people to sue if their constitutional rights are infringed, as well as end a ban that blocked colleges and universities from referring students for abortion services.

Will of the Voters

Michigan voters turned out in full force in November 2022 to support Proposal 3 and cement the right to reproductive freedom—including abortion care—into the state Constitution. And Democratic state lawmakers quickly found more work to be done (and old laws to repeal) to help ensure Michiganders are able to fully exercise their new constitutionally protected rights.

The protections provided by Proposal 3 effectively ensure that nobody will ever be prosecuted with a crime for providing or receiving reproductive health care in the state of Michigan. The amendment also states that all Michiganders have a specific right to reproductive freedom.

That includes the right to make and carry out any and all pregnancy-related decisions, and the amendment also bars the state from enacting any laws or regulations that would infringe upon those basic human rights without a “compelling state interest in the health” of the patient.

Democratic lawmakers took it a step further in April by repealing a nearly 100-year-old state law that had criminalized abortion care in Michigan, aligning state law with the newly amended State Constitution under Proposal 3—which was passed with about 57% of the overall vote last year.

In doing so, the Democratic-run state government has helped make Michigan a nationwide beacon for choice and bodily autonomy. Since the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade last year, abortion has now been banned or more tightly restricted in 21 states.

“If we have a constitutional right to reproductive freedom, but it’s not accessible for everyone, then it’s not actually a right,” Pohutsky told The ‘Gander in an exclusive interview this summer.

READ MORE: Whitmer signs new laws to expand access to reproductive care

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Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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