Abortion bills advance in Senate

Critics say two bills restricting abortions go against the Minnesota Constitution.

Michael Zittlow

Two bills aimed at limiting abortion in Minnesota passed a state Senate committee Tuesday.

One of the bills eliminates need-based state funding for abortions; the other prohibits abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization âÄî both were passed down party lines in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, chief author of the bill to eliminate public funding for abortions, said Minnesota goes beyond federal requirements in allowing anyone to get an abortion if they can prove that they are unable to pay for it themselves.

Under federal law, abortions only need to be publically funded in specific circumstances like life-threatening complications for the mother or fetus and cases of rape or incest, Thompson said.  His bill would still allow for these kinds abortions to be funded publically.

Critics of the bill said it violates the Minnesota state constitution.

Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the Minnesota Supreme Court decided in 1995 that women had the right to publically-funded abortions because other medical services are paid for by the state.

Levine said the state Supreme Court would likely find ThompsonâÄôs statute goes against the ConstitutionâÄôs implied rights of medical privacy.

The other bill, labeled the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, makes it a felony to provide an abortion of a fetus after 20 weeks since conception.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said the bill is based on research that says fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks after fertilization.

Currently, Minnesota law allows all abortions unless a baby is able to live outside of a womb, Levine said.

Again, Levine said the Minnesota Supreme Court, based on its prior decisions, would find HoffmanâÄôs bill unconstitutional.

But Teresa Collett, law professor at the University of St. Thomas, said the Nebraska statute that HoffmanâÄôs bill is based on, passed in October, has not been challenged as unconstitutional.

Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said she is concerned by a provision in the bill that gives money to MinnesotaâÄôs Attorney General to prosecute cases where the abortions were provided after 20 weeks after fertilization.

While Hoffman said the money will be funded by private donations, Berglin was concerned that the language of the bill was unclear and suggested that the money would come from state taxes.

Both bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary committee.

Companion bills to Thompson and HoffmanâÄôs proposals have been passed by House committees.