Gov. Snyder’s ‘balance’ now appears to lean against women’s rights

In signing one bill that imposes new restrictions on abortion providers while vetoing a second that would have eliminated insurance coverage for many abortions, Gov. Rick Snyder insisted (recently) that he was trying to strike a balance between women’s rights and his own opposition to most abortions.

But the more Snyder explains himself, the more apparent it is that those who seek to restrict Michigan women’s access to safe, legal abortions have found a staunch ally in the governor’s mansion.

Snyder vetoed Senate Bill 1293, part of a two-bill package that would have transformed Blue Cross Blue Shield into a nonprofit insurer. The Blue Cross legislation Snyder supported didn’t even mention abortion, but during their lame-duck rampage, Republican lawmakers added a provision that would have left every Michigan woman without insurance coverage for abortion-related services unless she purchased an opt-in abortion rider at additional expense.

The governor said he’d decided to veto the amended bill after concluding that it improperly extended the opt-in requirement to private insurers and failed to provide exceptions authorizing abortion coverage in the event of rape, incest or a threat to the life of the mother. But he added that he’d gladly sign legislation that denied abortion coverage to women who purchase insurance on a public health exchange, unless they purchase an optional rider or qualify under one of the three exceptions. Clearly, he’s more concerned about the prerogatives of private insurers than about those of pregnant women.

Snyder’s decision to sign HB5711, also known as the omnibus abortion bill, is even more troubling.

Snyder said his support for the bill, which requires medical professionals to redouble their efforts to make sure women seeking abortions haven’t been unduly coerced, is consistent with his lifelong opposition to bullying of all sorts. But he conceded his only evidence that coerced abortions are going undetected was “anecdotal” – a telling admission for a politician who likes to boast that his governing decisions are data-driven.

HB5711’s other key provision would require providers who advertise abortion services and perform more than 120 procedures a year to meet new licensing requirements. Snyder said he’s pretty sure the new rules will impact only “10 to 20” providers across the state – which doesn’t sound so bad, until you remember that there are only 32 abortion clinics in the whole state.

What percentage of women seeking abortions would be affected? Snyder said it’s hard to know, because reliable data regarding the number of abortions performed in private physicians’ offices is hard to come by.

Is there evidence that unlicensed clinics are botching procedures? Snyder says he has heard some complaints, but, once again, has little data to support abortion opponents’ claims that the problems HB5711 purports to address actually exist.

In summary, Snyder seems to have charged into this breach armed with more animus than information. His own rationale notwithstanding, the requirements he signed into law Friday are aimed at reducing the number of abortion providers in the state and expanding the arsenal of tactics available to intimidate women seeking an abortion.

Whether by intention or circumstance, one thing is becoming clear: The Snyder who soft-pedaled his own view about abortion in 2010 bears little resemblance to the governor who sits in Lansing today.

Snyder has attempted to distance himself from legislation he didn’t personally endorse. (Now), he has eliminated the pretense that he’s merely respecting the Republican Legislature’s own priorities. When it comes to advancing his party’s extreme right-wing agenda, he has gone from being a sheepish fellow-traveler to a full-throated supporter.

Pretending that (these) actions represent a compromise between the interests of women and pro-life Republicans is disingenuous. Michigan’s governor has made his choice, and women who want to preserve their own must now look elsewhere for help.