Last week the Michigan legislature passed a bill requiring women to purchase a separate rider if they want their insurance to cover abortion in the event a pregnancy is unwelcome or has unplanned consequences, such as a threat to the life of the mother. This law affects plans bought in the private market as well as those sold on Insurance Exchanges, and Michigan is the eighth state to pass this type of legislation.
Currently in North Carolina, no law restricts insurance coverage on the private market. Plans available on the exchange and those given to state and municipal employees are limited to covering abortion in the case of a risk to the life of the mother or a pregnancy due to rape or incest.
It can be gratifying to see that North Carolina has laws on the books that protect women, but it’s important to resist the temptation of complacency. Health insurance is enjoying a long moment in the national spotlight, and every political session brings with it the possibility of threats to women’s health care access.
In 2013 the state General Assembly saw dozens of bills introduced to regulate a woman’s relationship with her doctor. A bill to allow employers to deny coverage for birth control to their female employees was heard in the House, while the Senate heard one that would require parental consent for a 17-year-old seeking mental health help.
Bills similar to Michigan’s recent change didn’t pass in the Tar Heel State this year, but as these restrictions gain traction across the country, it’s reasonable to expect them to be introduced in future sessions. And then North Carolina women will be forced to explain why they need their insurance to be there for them when they encounter a devastating or life-changing situation.
A first-trimester abortion procedure can cost between $300 and $1,000. A later procedure, often done to save the life of the mother or in the case of extreme fetal abnormalities, can cost thousands. Women without insurance coverage for these events face going into debt over an uncontrollable — and tragic — event.
As often happens, in Michigan this mandate came without remedy. There are no health plans in the state that have an abortion rider to sell. No one knows how much such a rider will cost, although a federal mandate specifies it must be more than $1 a month. For the time being this means women may face a situation in which they are forced to pay out of pocket for any procedure termed to be an abortion — even if it’s treating an unviable pregnancy.
Attacks on women’s access to health care have become the rule rather than the exception, and it’s up to every woman to speak out against this hypocrisy. There has yet to be a single law passed that limits a man’s access to medical services, and there’s no reason why the government should involve itself in medical needs that are exclusive to women either.