This past Wednesday, Michigan lawmakers passed legislation that bans insurance companies from covering abortion services, even if a woman’s life is in danger. Women who want abortion services to be covered would have to purchase a separate rider. This legislation, “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act”, has been labeled ‘rape insurance’ by opponents because a woman would purchase the rider ahead of time in anticipation of the possibility of being raped. Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer shared her own story of sexual assault, calling attention to the needs of survivors.
This is not the first time the legislation has been proposed- last year Governor Rick Snyder (R) vetoed it. But this year it’s different because it’s a citizen’s initiative, having gotten over 300,000 signatures on a petition. Right to Life of Michigan and other proponents of the bill argue that the legislation stops taxpayers from subsidizing the cost of other people’s abortions. In reality, this legislation is just another iteration of attempts to limit access to abortion services- something that many states, like Virginia and Texas, have faced this year.
Much of the media attention regarding this particular legislation is focused on the need for a separate insurance rider in the case of rape (inspiring a significant freak out), but Jessica Valenti makes an incredibly valid point:”
the term “rape insurance” does a disservice to women—and to the reproductive justice movement. It is not just sexual assault survivors who need their abortion covered. Yes, there is an added dimension of cruelty when you’re talking about denying women who get pregnant as a result of rape care and coverage. But we cannot create a hierarchy of “good” and “bad” abortions. Or of “deserving” women. One in three American women will have an abortion, and the circumstances behind that pregnancy is none of our business—and it certainly should have no bearing on whether or not women can afford to access care.
Yes, this legislation is abominable. Yes, it limits access. Yes, there is a reason to be concerned about victims of rape who get pregnant and wish to terminate a pregnancy. In no way do I want to minimize the experiences/needs of someone who has been raped- but is it really rape insurance? While it may not generate quite the freak out that #rapeinsurance has, framing the discussion around access to services and limitation of rights more fully captures the broader issue at hand. So the call to action is finding a hashtag that will gain the attention we need to influence legislation to INCREASE access.
Sexuality educators can use this as a lesson in both rights to services and health care, and the power of framing an issue. To tease out this concept of framing, use the following questions for discussion:
– What do you think of when you hear the term, ‘rape insurance’?
– How can framing abortion legislation in the context of rape/assault change the dialogue?
– What would be an effective hashtag/tagline that would more fully represent the issue of abortion access?
– What would you say to legislators that were considering a bill that limits access to abortion services?