Legislature’s staredown with Right to Life a rarity

The Michigan Capital Building, courtesy wikipedia user Nikopoley.

The Michigan Capital Building, courtesy wikipedia user Nikopoley.

The state Legislature is in its final week of voting before it adjourns for the year. One of the big questions is whether lawmakers will cast votes on a controversial anti-abortion issue this year. The measure was put before the Legislature by a petition drive that gathered 300 thousand signatures.

This is shaping up as a rare act of defiance by the Legislature – or at least its Republican leaders — when it comes to the anti-abortion lobby.

“Hey, it’s baffling to me,” said Ken Sikkema, a former Republican state Senate majority leader. Today, he’s a policy advisor at a Lansing think tank. He says this delay in voting does not make political sense.

“Clearly, a Republican Senate and a Republican House are going to take a vote on this initiated law. I don’t think there’s any question they’re going to pass it,” Sikkema said.

And that’s because the Legislature has commanding majorities aligned with the anti-abortion movement. A majority of lawmakers even signed the petitions to initiate a law. This law would require someone to buy a separate policy for abortion coverage. Insurance companies could not include that as part of a basic health plan.

Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed a similar measure last year because there were no exceptions to allow insurance to cover abortions in cases of rape or incest. An initiated law cannot be vetoed by a governor.

If the Legislature rejects the petition, or doesn’t vote at all, the question will go on the November 2014 ballot. But no one expects that to happen.

“There will be a vote. We just haven’t decided when that will be,” said Amber McCann, the spokeswoman for state Senate Republican Leader Randy Richardville. Richardville says he’s in no hurry to vote on the measure, even if that pushes the issue into next year.

But that would have consequences.

“We want the law to take effect in the new year and if we wait til the new year, and there’s no immediate effect granted, we wait all the way til 2015 for the law to take effect,” she said.

Ed Rivet is the chief lobbyist for Right to Life of Michigan. Let me explain what he’s talking about.
We know a majority of state legislators are on board with the petition. But there’s the vote on that question, and then there’s another procedural vote. It’s called “immediate effect.” And two-thirds the House and the Senate need to vote for “immediate effect.” That’s not in the cards. What that means is if the vote happens this year, the law takes effect in about three months. Or the vote happens next year, and the law wouldn’t go into effect until 2015.

Abortion rights advocates would like to delay a vote long enough to force the question to the November ballot.

“We have a lot of folks that have been contacting us and really wanting to make sure the Legislature does not vote on this, that it goes to the ballot,” said Meghan Hodge Groen with Planned Parenthood.

But anti-abortion groups have geared up a campaign of phone calls and e-mails to urge lawmakers to act, preferably before the end of the year. And Ken Sikkema notes that Right to Life has a history of getting what it wants from the Michigan Legislature.

“Right to Life as an organization is very effective, and very demanding,” Sikkema said.

And Right to Life is demanding votes this week from the Legislature.

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