Democracy works best when citizens express their thoughts and concerns, participate in public discussion, and elect their local, state and federal officials. When citizens cast their ballot or communicate with the political officials who represent them, they influence the direction of public policy and debate about current issues.
Other tools are also provided by the Michigan Constitution for public involvement, including the statutory initiative petition. This tool allows citizens to bring legislation before the Michigan Senate and Michigan House of Representatives for their consideration. Under the law, citizens have 180 days to obtain the required signatures, a number based on eight percent of the votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. Once the Board of State Canvassers has certified the validity of the signatures, the measure is submitted to the State Legislature, which has forty calendar days to act. A simple majority is required in both chambers for adoption of the law. If either chamber votes against the measure or decides not to take action, the language will be put before the citizens of Michigan as a ballot proposal the following year.
After passage in 2010, the federal Affordable Care Act gave states the ability to decide whether or not to offer health plans that included abortion coverage. States wanting to prohibit taxpayer dollars from subsidizing elective abortions had to pass additional language to do so.
As a result, the citizens of Michigan began the process of initiating legislation and collecting the necessary 258,088 signatures in June to place such opt-out language before the State Legislature. This citizen-initiated measure, the Abortion Opt-Out Act, prohibits abortion coverage from the state health care exchange created by the federal Affordable Care Act. Additionally, it requires private health plans offering abortion coverage to do so through an optional rider, rather than as an included benefit.
The No Taxes for Abortion Committee, sponsored by Right to Life of Michigan, did not pay professionals to circulate petitions, nor did any out-of-state special interest money fund the measure. Michigan citizens volunteered their time and effort to gather signatures, and Michigan citizens supported the cause of this petition drive. Abortion is not health care, and the signature gathering effort sent a clear message that the people of Michigan do not want to pay for the abortions of others.
Thanks to the leadership of many individuals and parishes throughout the state of Michigan, enough signatures were gathered to introduce the Abortion Insurance Opt-Out Act. On October 4, No Taxes for Abortion Insurance turned in 315,000 signatures to be verified, almost 57,000 more signatures than the amount required by law, and submitted a month before the deadline. These signatures represented individuals from every one of Michigan’s eighty-three counties and sent a strong pro-life message to lawmakers. After certification of the signatures by the Board of State Canvassers earlier this month, legislators approved the citizen-initiated measure into law with a 27–11 vote in the Senate and a 62–47 vote in the House.
The success of the recent No Taxes for Abortion Insurance petition demonstrates the importance of citizen involvement in the policy process. With Michigan’s approval of the measure, twenty-four states have now adopted opt-out language in their state health care exchange, and nine have passed prohibitions in both public and private insurance plans.
In January, when coverage for Michigan residents who have purchased insurance on the exchange takes effect, citizens will not have to worry about their tax dollars subsidizing elective abortions. Michigan Catholic Conference is thankful to all the pro-life voices who expressed their support, as well as to the Michigan Legislature for listening to the people’s voice.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.