It can hardly be argued American women are not treated like second-class citizens despite several women’s rights movements over the past one-hundred years. Whether it is equal pay for equal work, equity in healthcare costs, or the right to choose their own reproductive health, women are still restricted from rights every man enjoys due to their gender. Women as second-rate citizens is driven by archaic religious beliefs that they are destined to live in subjection to a man whether it is a husband, employer, or Republican legislator. It is the right to choose their reproductive health that women are most likely under attack from Republicans whose latest assault is restricting abortion coverage in private health care plans women buy through exchanges created under the Affordable Care Act.
Recently, the Michigan legislature joined eight other states to pass an “Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act” that bans private insurance companies from covering abortion services regardless that women pay for the policies themselves and no government money is involved. The bill has two purposes; enrich the insurance industry by forcing women to purchase additional coverage and economically punish them if they want abortion care covered by private policies purchased through an exchange. As is their religious practice, the Michigan bill contains no exception for cases of rape or incest, and women are forbidden from purchasing a rider if they are already pregnant.
What the bill means for every woman in Michigan is if she is raped and becomes pregnant but has failed to purchase a separate rider for abortion coverage, her health insurance does not have to pay for the procedure and she has to pay out of pocket or give birth. It also means that in Michigan every woman is considered “pre-pregnant” because she may become pregnant at some point in her life and is required to pay more simply because she is born with a uterus.
The Michigan law requiring all women to purchase what is tantamount to “rape insurance” is a trend 24 other states have enacted to restrict abortion coverage in private health care plans through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. In fact, Michigan is the ninth state to place an outright ban on abortion care in private healthcare policies, and only one state allows an exception for rape. It bears repeating that these Republican laws affect women enrolled in private insurance plans paid for by the women, and there are absolutely no taxpayer dollars involved.
These laws are meant to economically punish women for being women, and force those who cannot afford to buy rape insurance to give birth. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 69% of women, most who already paid for health insurance, were forced to pay out-of-pocket for abortion care, and 52% of those women said it was an economic hardship to pay for their own abortions even though they already paid for health insurance. Michigan Republicans’ law exacerbates that unfortunate reality by design to restrict a woman’s reproductive choice and either force them to be birth machines, abstain from sexual intercourse, or wear a chastity belt to prevent a rapist from impregnating them.
The main impetus for laws like Michigan’s rape insurance requirement is a trend to use insurance coverage for abortion to restrict women’s reproductive rights as well as increase the bottom line for the insurance industry. It is not as dramatic as outright bans on abortion, but it serves the same purpose and keeps the diabolical practice out of the public’s consciousness. It is the religious anti-choice crowd’s way to make women pay dearly for the right to make their own reproductive choices, and at costs anywhere between $300 and $10,000 out of pocket it is the easiest way for the religious right to impose their will on all women and restrict them from using private healthcare policies for part of what they pay for; reproductive health.
Most poor women are already forbidden from using publicly-funded health insurance to pay for abortion care thanks to the Hyde Amendment that forces low-income women who cannot pay out of pocket for an abortion to carry unwanted pregnancies to term. Even if they buy health insurance through an ACA exchange, they can hardly afford the extra expense for rape insurance that means they have no reproductive choice and that is the religious right’s intent with Republicans only too happy to help their cause. Sadly, these restrictions did not begin with passage of the Affordable Care Act because banning private insurance coverage for abortion was first enacted into law in North Dakota in 1979 with Idaho, Kentucky, and Missouri following suit in 1980. None of the states allow an exception for rape victims and they have no intent to offer rape insurance riders.
The religious anti-choice movement took advantage of the ACA’s state-run private exchanges to restrict reproductive choice coverage even though women pay for policies with their own funds; some states immediately banned exchanges from offering private plans that included abortion coverage. Several states took it farther and passed laws restricting abortion coverage in any private insurance plan whether they were a part of ACA exchanges or not. Since 2011, Kansas, Utah, Oklahoma, and Nebraska enacted “sweeping restrictions” on women purchasing private insurance simply because they were women. All eight states that restricted private insurance abortion coverage do not have an exception for victims of sexual assault except Utah, and the seven other states force women to buy “rape insurance” that media has been remiss to report to avoid pressure from theocrats running the country.
Women in other states should not breathe a sigh of relief, because a new kind of legislation was recently introduced in Ohio that not only bans abortion care in private insurance policies, it contains no exception for rape or incest and bans “rape insurance” riders. The only reason Michigan’s “rape insurance” law attracted attention is because Americans typically react negatively when Republicans demonstrate their callous disregard for victims of sexual assaults with barbaric abortion restrictions and overwhelming support abortion in cases of rape. It is why media is as much to blame for the prevalence of restrictions against women in private insurance policies as Republicans passing Draconian anti-women laws in states.
The sole reason Republicans are passing these restrictive insurance laws is ultimately to restrict women from getting the care they need even if there are exceptions for victims of sexual assault. In fact, Republicans and their religious cohort have created confusion and extra expense for abortion services to keep women in the dark even if they even have the option to buy rape insurance. The result is that an estimated 46% of women who pay for private health insurance end up paying the full cost of their abortion out of pocket because they have been convinced their provider does not cover the procedure. An additional 10% just pay with cash because the religious right has created such negative stigma surrounding the procedure that they are afraid to use their insurance to remain anonymous and avoid exposure and repercussions from anti-choice groups.
Women have been under increasing assaults from Republicans and anti-choice groups throughout 2013, and there is every indication they will ramp up their attacks in 2014. The success of Draconian anti-choice restrictions in North Carolina and Texas were the beginning of an all-out campaign to assert the religious rights’ belief that women exist to subject themselves to the will of Christian Republican men. Despite Republican claims they are reaching out to attract women voters, their actions in the states tell an entirely different story. Whether it is forcing women to buy “rape insurance,” or subjecting them to an employer’s corporate conscience forbidding contraception coverage there is no end to what religiously-inclined patriarchs will impose on women. It is important that women remember that unless they sequester themselves at home, abstain from sexual relations, and wear chastity belts to prevent rapists from impregnating them, they will be what the religious right and Republicans want them to be; perpetual birth machines.