LANSING, Mich. — Incensed Democrats and abortion rights advocates are vowing that Republican lawmakers overreached so much with new restrictions on abortion coverage in Michigan's public and private health insurance plans that it will cost them in the 2014 elections.
A ballot drive to repeal or override the law is being considered. If enough signatures are collected, the statewide vote would coincide with November legislative races and keep the issue fresh in the minds of voters in 11 months.
While it's not unusual for emotions to remain raw in the days immediately after passage of any abortion law, the GOP struck a nerve that critics say will resonate long after the holidays.
Democratic women in the male-dominated Legislature felt compelled to tell their own personal stories during last week's floor debates, in part because no committee hearings were held on the Right to Life initiative that allows primary insurance plans to cover elective abortions only when a woman's life is at risk. Starting in March and once policies renew, an optional rider will have to be bought in advance to cover all other abortions, including those resulting from rape and incest.
Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, in a heart-rending plea against the bill, disclosed that she had been raped. She said she woke up the day after the vote feeling down but her spirits were lifted with a barrage of supportive calls, emails and Facebook messages from Democrats and Republicans, women and men, those who live in Michigan and elsewhere.
"The vast majority of people in this state don't want this ugly policy," the East Lansing Democrat said Friday. "A lot of them are extremely offended by it."
Those who unsuccessfully lobbied majority Republicans to sidestep the initiative and let voters approve or reject it next year say internal polling is on their side.
Legislators voted for it Wednesday despite some representing GOP-leaning districts where 60 percent to 70 percent of respondents were opposed, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
"They didn't see this as an abortion issue," ACLU lobbyist Shelli Weisberg said. "They saw it as a coverage issue, as a privacy issue, as an issue that deals with commerce and not legislation. They didn't want the Legislature trying to interfere with medical decisions."
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation a year ago, calling it an interference with the private marketplace and saying it would have been inappropriate to tell a rape victim that she needs to have extra insurance to terminate her pregnancy. But he had no say this time because it was a citizens' initiative for which anti-abortion activists gathered more than 300,000 signatures.
"Abortion is not true health care and people who object will not have to contribute their own tax dollars or insurance premiums for elective abortions," said Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing.
GOP political strategist Jeff Timmer, a partner with The Sterling Corp. in Lansing, said the die is cast for a battle between traditional forces on both side of the abortion debate. But he questioned whether it will have much broader bearing next November, adding that in 1988 Michigan voters upheld a Right to Life-initiated law prohibiting public funding of abortion services for welfare recipients.
"Wiser heads will prevail," Timmer said. "The Democrats and the left and pro-choice groups are not going to want to bring an initiative referendum that puts the focus back on health care."
Republicans hope the federal health care law will prove unpopular in the elections. A thrust behind the abortion law is keeping taxpayer-subsidized plans on Michigan's new insurance marketplace from covering abortions, an option for states under the federal health care law.
But the measure also applies to employer plans and coverage sold to individuals outside the exchange, something opponents say shows how extreme it is. Many women in the state will repudiate "rape insurance" and sympathize once hearing about a lack of primary coverage for terminating planned pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities and other medical complications, according to Democrats.
Seeking to clear up confusion around parts of the law, House Republicans late Friday posted a Q&A on their website that says women suffering miscarriages will have insurance coverage for abortions as will rape victims using emergency contraception.
Detractors note that many victims of rape or incest are terrified to report it and the morning-after pill or an intrauterine device only works in the immediate days after an attack.
"This initiative injects the cold, bureaucratic hand of government into the room when women and their doctors are making medical decisions — very difficult and personal medical decisions," said Rep. Kate Segal, a Battle Creek Democrat.