Friday, November 29, 2013

ACA Abortion coverage threatened in Michigan

An article in Mother Jones recently revealed the threat to abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act in Michigan. So far, 23 states have adopted the so-called "Stupak Amendment," named for U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI). The amendment forces women to purchase separate insurance policies that cover abortion. It also allows employers to choose not to offer their employees these separate programs, thereby preventing some women from accessing abortion coverage. It is a clever way of working around one of the ACA's most important provisions for women, and it is especially concerning that the original idea came from a House Democrat. Michigan's Governor, Republican Rick Snyder, has already vetoed a bill that is nearly identical to a bill that is about to come before the Michigan state legislature after being petitioned by an organization called Michigan Right to Life.

That would seem to ease the concerns of pro-choice Michiganders, but a bizarre provision of the state's constitution makes it possible for the bill to become law without ever seeing Governor Snyder's desk. In Michigan, citizens may send a bill to the legislature with only 3% signing a petition in favor of it. After that, only a simple majority in the legislature is necessary for the bill to pass. The Governor's signature is not necessary. With the state legislature controlled by Republicans, this seems to be a done deal. Michigan's constitution effectively makes the veto pivot, the filibuster pivot, and the median voter the same legislator. As Republicans hold the majority in the legislature, it is safe to assume that the median voter is a Republican who will support this bill. Thus, as the article points out, the best case scenario for Michigan Democrats and supporters of a woman's right to choose is that there is no vote on this bill.

Not only does it change our usual thinking about the gridlock interval and pivotal legislators, this provision in Michigan's state constitution also raises some concerns about representation. Under the constitution, a mere 3% of Michigan's population can push through legislation if it lines up with the preferences of the median voter in the state legislature. That is not to say that that is what's happening with the Stupak amendment--perhaps 51% of people in Michigan support the measure. But let's say that proposition X is a radically conservative proposal and the Michigan state legislature is also far more radical than the state's population in general on the particular issue that proposition X addresses. In that instance, 3% of the state could force a radical new law on the other 97% without the Governor's signature as a check on the legislature's power. It would be interesting to explore how this provision made its way into the state's constitution and what its benefits might be, but on its face it seems problematic.


  1. Kate--
    Great post. It is very worrisome that the Michigan State Legislature seems to have such unchecked power, and that there hasn't been much to challenge it. If their legislature were to go along with the Stupak Amendment, and bypass the Governor's desk, would the pro-choice organizations and interest groups have grounds to put forth constitutional challenges and injunctions to their methods, and provisions?
    Sophie S.

  2. As worrisome as this is, I think there are a ton more variables to look at. Regardless of whether or not 3% of Michiganders send this bill to the floor, any piece of legislation is going to face obstacles once it gets to the floor. If the majority of Michigan's population is pro-choice, we would hope to see representatives voting in a way that takes into account the feelings of the state and their constituents. It's shocking to me that a state would put something into their constitution that leaves the legislature so un-checked.

  3. Yeah, just want to echo the shock that 3% of the Michigan population could have so much power in promoting legislation. Although only a simple majority is needed, I wonder if many legislators would support a bill sent in with 3% of the states's population's support. If the total amount of the support for a bill is relatively unknown or if legislators are not sure about the safety of their positions, I can't see many legislators opting to adopt a proposal proposed by 3% of the population. I wonder how many times this rule has been invoked thought the history of the Michigan legislator and at what percentages of support that this rule is effective at creating new policy.

    --Arthur Townsend

  4. Ditto how shocking this 3% provision is, though I do not think it would cause too much of a problem in most situations. It's a way for minority-view citizens to have a better shot of getting their ideas heard and put into action; however, legislators in congress care a lot about reelection. If only a small percentage of constituents want the bill passed, many legislators would have to vote outside of their constituents' interests in order to pass the legislation. This would make them vulnerable in the next election. For something as divisive as abortion, I do not think legislators would vote as anything but delegates.

  5. I’m very curious about the origins of the 3% provision. Like Steph said, it could be a great tool for minorities to voice their opinion on an issue, but its potential as a gubernatorial override is really dangerous. If a bill pass with a majority the first time, it’s likely that 3% or more of the population is represented already in that vote. This provision just removes the governor from the equation. I should also mention that 3% of Michigan’s population is about 300K people.Getting that many adults to sign a petition was probably a much harder feat decades ago.

  6. I have absolutley no idea who thought that the 3% petition threshold was a good idea, but they really didn't think this one through. If I were Michigan Democrats, I would be doing my absolute best at this point to try and get as many issues that would roll the majority as possible onto petitions, then let the Republicans deal with the results of that. This doesn't only circumvent the governer - it also circumvents the Speaker, aparently, and it shouldn't take long after that becomes clear before both sides do away with it.