Before her colleagues voted a controversial bill restricting abortion insurance into law, Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D- East Lansing) begged them to consider the rights of women. In her speech Wednesday, the lawmaker held back tears as she revealed something she'd never told most people: she was raped in college.
For several minutes Wednesday afternoon, Whitmer read from notes on the Senate floor, condemning her Republican colleagues who were expected to pass the measure and the group, Right to Life of Michigan, who pushed the measure through.
"As a legislator, a lawyer, a woman and the mother of two girls, I think the fact that rape insurance is even being discussed by this body is repulsive, let alone the way it has been orchestrated and now shoved through the legislature," she said. "Those of you on the other side of the aisle are all too happy to be puppets in this offensive game impacting women's lives. ... This is by far one of the most misogynistic proposals I've ever seen in the Michigan legislature."
The law, which appeared before the legislature through a citizen-initiated petition, requires women to purchase additional insurance coverage for elective abortion before they would need one, including in cases of rape and incest.
"Let's be clear: this stance is not pro-abortion or anti-children born through rape or incest. This stance is merely upholding a woman's right to make her own decisions about her own body," Whitmer continued.
But after more than six minutes of speaking, Whitmer put down her prepared remarks, saying she couldn't push a colleague to share a personal story if she wasn't brave enough to tell one of her own:
I'm about to tell you something that I've not shared with many people in my life. But over 20 years ago I was a victim of rape. And thank God it didn't result in a pregnancy, because I can't imagine going through what I went through and then having to consider what to do about an unwanted pregnancy from an attacker. And as a mother with two girls, the thought that they would ever go through something like I did keeps me up at night.
I thought this was all behind me. You know how tough I can be. The thought and the memory of that still haunts me. If this were law then and I had become pregnant I would not be able to have coverage because of this. How extreme, how extreme does this measure need to be? I'm not the only woman in our state that has faced that horrible circumstance. I am not enjoying talking about it. It's something I've hidden for a long time. But I think you need to see the face of the women that you are impacting by this vote today. I think you need to think of the girls that we're raising and what kind of a state we want to be where you would put your approval on something this extreme.
Whitmer told the Detroit Free Press she called her father after she spoke, because she had never told him about her attack.
After her speech Wednesday, both the state House and Senate voted the bill requiring separate abortion insurance into law. Not a single Republican voted against it. Two Democrat state representatives and one state senator also voted for the measure.
A petition circulated by Right to Life of Michigan's No Taxes for Abortion Insurance committee gathered nearly 300,000 valid signatures in favor of the act. Under a quirk of state law, the citizen-initiated petition allowed the bill to be passed by a simple majority in the legislature, without Gov. Rick Snyder (R), who vetoed a similar bill last year, needing to sign it. If legislators had not passed the bill, it would have gone on the ballot for a statewide vote in 2014.
"We applaud the Michigan legislators who stood firm in their resolve and voted to ensure no person is forced to fund the deliberate taking of an innocent human life in the name of health care," Right To Life President Barbara Listing said in a statement.
Watch Whitmer's full speech above and hear her courageous admission beginning at 6:48.
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