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Interview with Dani Vilella: The ongoing fight for reproductive rights in Michigan

February 27, 2013

For over a year now there has been a battle at the state level of women’s reproductive rights, with numerous pieces of legislation that would turn back many gains around reproductive rights that women’s organizations and allies have fought for in recent decades.blog_20121212171103

Last week, Dani Vilella, with the Grand Rapids chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), was in Lansing during a House Insurance Committee meeting, where women’s reproductive rights were being discussed.

GRIID – What happened in Lansing last week?

Dani – The House Insurance Committee approved BCBS bill without abortion coverage restrictions. The bill will now go to the House. Here is what was reported on the House Insurance Committee meeting from MIRS, which I think sums up well what went down.

Without opposition votes and without an amendment to restrict insurance coverage for abortions, the House Insurance Committee advanced bills to transform Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) into a non-profit mutual company today.

The committee voted 11-0 to report SB 0061 and SB 0062. While Minority Vice Chairwoman Kate Segal (D-Battle Creek) voted in favor of the bills, the three other Democratic committee members passed.

Rep. John Olumba (I-Detroit) was absent. The bills are not expected to be taken up on the House floor today.

In front of a crowded room, the Insurance Committee took about 90 minutes of testimony before the vote today. Although Planned Parenthood supporters were in attendance and many expected the committee to consider adding language to restrict insurance coverage for abortions, there was no discussion of abortion coverage during the meeting.

Insurance Chairman Pete Lund (R-Shelby Twp.) said this afternoon that if lawmakers had abortion language that was ready to go in the bill, they would put it in.

“We just don’t have it,” Lund said.michigan-abortion

Ed Rivet of Right to Life Michigan (RTLM) said RTLM hasn’t been engaged in any detailed discussions about the language.

“There isn’t any reason that those two issues have to be linked together,” Rivet said. “So if they never are, that is not a problem for us.”

The Insurance Committee did approve today amendments to clean up language in the bill and to add focuses for the health and wellness fund that BCBSM will provide dollars for. The new focuses include expanding access to prenatal care and a reduction of the infant mortality rate.”

GRIID – What does this mean for women’s rights and reproductive rights in Michigan?

Dani – The House Insurance Committee decision to approve bills advancing the ability of BCBSM to participate in the Michigan Health Care Exchange without unnecessary restrictions on abortion coverage is a small sign that the Legislature is moving in the right direction on health care without using woman’s health as a bargaining chip. This is the same bill vetoed by Gov. Snyder during the lame duck session this past winter.

GRIID – What are Planned Parenthood and other organizations planning to do in response to this decision?

Dani – Planned Parenthood will continue to monitor this bill as it now moves to the floor of the Michigan House. In addition to this bill, we will spend 2013 working to expand Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of Michiganders as well as ensuring that women’s health is a priority in the establishment of the Michigan Health Care Exchange.

GRIID – How is this justice issue connected to other justice struggles in Michigan right now?

Dani – The desire to introduce abortion restrictions into bills like one, in addition to eight other anti-choice bills that have been introduced so far this year are exemplary of the fact that certain factions within the Michigan Legislature are not getting the message sent to them during the 2012 elections – that we are tired of these attacks on women and families. We are tired of attacks on the middle class and the poor. We are tired of corporate and conservative interests taking precedent over what is right and fair for Michiganders.

Planned Parenthood and our progressive partners will continue to fight, alongside our amazing advocates to protect MI families.

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