For better or for worse, Michigan has also found itself in the national spotlight over abortion restrictions. In 2012, the term “Vaginagate” was coined after the state House Republican leadership prohibited Democratic Rep. Lisa Brown from speaking on the House floor. She contends it was because she used the word “vagina” in debate over abortion legislation. Republicans said the reprimand came because she had failed to maintain the decorum of the House, not for her use of the word.
Last year, pro-choice Democrats derided an initiative that would require women to buy what they called “rape insurance,” a rider in order to have abortion procedures covered by their health insurance plans, even in cases of rape and incest. The initiative was passed by the legislature and did not have to be approved by Gov. Snyder. It takes effect March 14.
Bobbi Walton, president of Michigan NOW, said such legislative efforts aren’t helpful in persuading women to live and work in the state.
“If you have policies that are more restrictive, more inhibiting on your personal life, it is not going to be attractive to anybody I can think of,” she said. “If I was a young professional, if I was a woman who was looking to relocate for a good job or because of schools or any other reason, that would certainly enter into my calculation.”
But Pamela Sherstad, director of public information for Right to Life of Michigan, said she’s seen no evidence that women are turning away from Michigan. She noted that the abortion rider legislation was passed through citizen petitions.
As a collector of signatures, she said, “I came in contact with a lot of people who were very supportive and with women who were very supportive of having the option to be able to choose not to cover abortion as part of health care insurance.”
Terry Barclay, president of Inforum, the state’s leading professional women’s organization, said it’s hard to generalize about women. “Anything that speaks of going backward on any women’s health issue would be perceived as not positive, but I think it’s very dangerous to characterize women as a monolithic group.” Members of her organization have strong opinions on both sides of the abortion issue, she said.
Barclay said that more concerning was the idea that women would be prevented from speaking during the legislative debate.
“It certainly doesn’t portray the state in a positive vein as a state that promotes discourse and allows the fact that honest people can disagree,” she said.