State lawmakers in Michigan are using their lame-duck session to pass a bundle of bills that would significantly restrict women's ability to access and pay for abortions in the state.
The state Senate passed three bills on Thursday that would ban abortion coverage in state-based health insurance exchanges and all private insurance plans, and another bill that would allow employers and medical professionals to refuse to cover or provide health treatment to which they morally object. State lawmakers are also expected to pass a so-called omnibus bill on Thursday that would impose prohibitive building regulations on abortion clinics and ban the use of telemedicine to prescribe abortion medication.
"It feels like [state legislators] are completely tone-deaf to what Americans want in general, which is for legislators to pay attention to the economy, particularly in Michigan, and to women and their power to say, 'This is what we want, and this is what we don't want,'" Desiree Cooper, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, told The Huffington Post.
Senate Bills 612, 613 and 614, which passed along party lines in the State Senate on Thursday, will prevent all insurance plans in Michigan from covering abortion unless a woman would die without the procedure. The measures do not include exceptions for rape, incest or pregnancy complications that would jeopardize the mother's health. Private insurance companies will be given the option to carry a separate abortion coverage policy that the woman would have to pay for in addition to her regular coverage.
Republicans said they support the bills because they allow people who morally object to abortion to ensure that their money doesn't feed into a pool that pays for the procedure. Reproductive rights advocates argue that the bill is unreasonable, because insurance companies are not likely to offer that separate rider.
"It's somewhat of a false promise," said Meghan Groen, director of government relations for PPAM. "No insurance company currently offers a rider for abortion coverage, and no woman is going to purchase a separate rider for something she hasn't planned. You're talking about an unexpected pregnancy, or a fetal anomaly."
State senators also passed a bill on Thursday by a vote of 26 to 12 that would allow employers, doctors, nurses and pharmacists to conscientiously object to providing or paying for certain medical services, including birth control and abortion. Senate Republicans argued that the bill protects religious freedom. The Detroit Free Press reports that one Republican doctor, state Sen. Roger Kahn (R-Saginaw), broke with his party to oppose the bill.
“I don’t know how this doesn’t violate the oath I took, when I promised to resuscitate someone with TB or treat someone with AIDS,” he said.
The House is expected to consider those bills next week. In the meantime, it is expected to pass an omnibus bill that would further restrict abortion access. House Bill 5711 would regulate abortion clinics as surgical centers by imposing strict physical building requirements on them, such as minimum doorway sizes and minimum square footage. The regulations could effectively shut down some clinics in the state.
The omnibus bill also includes a provision that ends telemedicine abortions, which are commonly used by women in rural and medically under-served areas of the state. According the Groen, 21 out of 83 counties in Michigan have no local OBGYN, so telemedicine allows doctors to prescribe medication abortions to women in early stages of their pregnancies through a phone or internet consultation. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently signed a bill that expands the use of telemedicine in other areas of health care.
State Sen. Coleman Young II (D-Detroit) sharply criticized his Republican colleagues on Thursday for pushing forward with the anti-abortion agenda. “Get the government from underneath women’s clothes," he said. “We’ve already had this conversation. Obama won, Romney lost, get over it.”