New governor could determine changes in family planning legislation

W By Kelly Custer

when Gov. Jesse Ventura leaves his office in January, a new governor could have the power to change the family planning system in Minnesota.

Not only could the state’s choice for governor affect the outcome of abortion-related legislation during the next legislative session, but also the effectiveness of proposed bills regarding family planning.

“The House will very likely remain pro-life. Most feel that the Senate will go pro-life as well. The major key is the governor,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville and House assistant majority leader.

Sen. Linda Higgins, DFL-Minneapolis, agreed the next governor will play a pivotal role in family planning decisions.

“Clearly, we have one candidate adamantly pro-life in (Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim) Pawlenty, one adamantly pro-choice in (Democratic gubernatorial candidate Roger) Moe,” Higgins said.

“Pawlenty will sign any of that (anti-abortion) stuff; Roger Moe will veto it,” she said.

Higgins said although the House has traditionally voted for anti-abortion legislation, the Senate has been – and will remain – split down the middle on the issue.

For the last four years, abortion rights organizations relied on Ventura to veto legislation that would restrict funding for state family planning clinics that offer abortions, said Tim Stanley, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

“If Pawlenty is elected, the direction of family planning legislation could change dramatically,” said John Wodele, Ventura’s press secretary. “(Pawlenty) is enthusiastically anti-choice and generally has a Republican platform that spills over into family planning.

“Pawlenty has said that he will not raise taxes or additional revenues. Family planning programs are affected by budget cuts. If you rely specifically on budget cuts to balance the budget Ö the risk of ongoing budget cuts are greater,” Wodele said.

Peter Hong, Pawlenty’s press secretary, said Pawlenty is concerned with how state dollars are spent.

“Pawlenty supports adequate family planning, but does not want state money to fund abortions,” Hong said.

“If it comes down to eliminating a massive budget deficit, he will look at how these programs account for their performance and results and meet the goals that are set for them,” Hong said.

Emily Lawrence, press secretary for Moe, said Moe wants the state to continue funding family planning.

“Roger Moe supports funding for family planning programs and opposes any attempts to restrict this funding, including the ‘gag rule’ that some have tried to pass in recent years,” she said.

Green Party candidate Ken Pentel would not support any legislation restricting family planning funding, said Christopher Childs, Pentel’s press secretary.

Independence Party candidate Tim Penny was not available for comment.

Kelsey Collier-Wise, president of the University Choice Coalition and a National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League intern, has spent the past few weeks mailing letters and calling constituents to rally support for Democrats this election.

“Money spent on family planning is so important and saves the taxpayers money,” Collier-Wise said. “We try to keep people aware of issues that come up.”

Bills restricting family planning last legislative session hung in the balance of less than five swing votes, Stanley said.

One bill that died at the end of the session, House File 3130, aimed to eliminate state funding for any family planning group that refers patients to abortion services. The legislation would prevent groups that receive state family planning grants from displaying or distributing material about abortion.

Part of the bill said the clinics could not engage in public advocacy promoting the legality or accessibility of abortion.

“They want to make it part of state law that no organization that considers abortion to be in the continuum of reproductive health care services eligible for any state money,” Stanley said.

Rep. Mary Ellen Otremba, said she wanted to enable smaller clinics to receive state money. “I’m more concerned about the little clinics (that don’t provide abortion); they can still get those (family planning) grants,” she said. Otremba, R-Long Prairie, co-authored the bill.

“This is a way to trim but not hurt programs,” she said, adding that larger clinics can survive on private funding.

Stanley said organizations opposing abortions, including Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life, have created a perception that family planning is equivalent to abortion.

“Antis try to paint us as people who try to lure women into getting abortions,” said Connie Perpich, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood. “(Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life) is trying to cripple family planning programs.”

Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life did not respond to several phone calls and e-mails last week. But at the House committee meeting in February when the House File 3130 was approved, a Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life representative said Minnesotans should not have to pay tax dollars to support a “multi-million dollar abortion industry.”

There are currently 47 Family Planning Special Projects clinics in Minnesota that receive state money. The project grantees are nonprofit organizations that provide reproductive health care and contraception to thousands of women each year.

“Most of the grantees do counseling on all options for pregnancy,” said Judy Bergh, Family Planning Special Projects Consultant for the Minnesota Department of Health. “(Bills like House File 3130) would prevent any organization that even talks about abortion to get family planning money.”

It’s likely that similar bills attempting to restrict state family planning spending will reappear this session, continuing a trend of the past 20 years, Holberg said.

Holberg, who was the primary author of House File 3130, said she’s certain a similar bill will pass only if Pawlenty is elected.

“I think the only person running for governor that will support that legislation is Pawlenty,” she said.

But Otremba said she doubts the gubernatorial election will have that much of an effect on family planning legislation.

“A bill (restricting family planning funding) would need to get through the House and the Senate first. Last time, it didn’t even get that far,” Otremba said.

“I’ve seen so much flip-flopping in the candidates that I really don’t know,” she said.

Kelly Custer is a freelance writer. The freelance editor welcomes comments at [email protected]