Family planning groups oppose state funding limits

by Elizabeth Putnam

A Minnesota House committee approved a controversial bill Thursday that aims to eliminate state funding for any family planning group that refers patients to abortion services.

The bipartisan legislation – debated before the Health and Human Services Committee – would prevent groups receiving state family planning grant funds from distributing or displaying materials about abortion.

It would also prohibit these groups from discussing the abortion option with patients.

“It’s a simple bill in what it’s trying to do,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, who co-authored the bill. “We are not stopping these organizations with what they do. We are just changing the appropriations of funds.”

Andrea Rau, from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said Minnesotans should not have to pay tax dollars to support the “multi-million-dollar abortion industry.”

“It’s a bill that protects the taxpayers from something they find morally wrong,” Rau said.

But Connie Perpich, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota/South Dakota, said family planning is about prevention. She said the bill would hinder family planning organizations’ core purpose.

“It’s strange and shortsighted to deny the money to do prevention,” Perpich said. “We must counsel about all options.”

She said the majority of women who use family planning services have low incomes and no insurance, and she said they rely on these programs for basic health care.

Of the 14,450 reported abortions in 2000, 2,378 were for economic reasons, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

Rep. Richard Mulder, R-Ivanhoe, said there are alternatives for low-income women besides Planned Parenthood.

“Low-cost options are available from other providers and (low-income women) are getting these services,” Mulder said.

Amy Hill, of Resolve of Minnesota – a local chapter of the National Fertility Association, which specializes in infertility counseling and health care – said the terminology in the bill is far too broad.

Resolve does not take a position on abortion, but Hill said the legislation would prevent access to infertility health care for those who use family planning options.

Teresa Nelson, legal counsel for the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, said the bill is unconstitutional and poses threats to free speech rights.

“The bill goes beyond what is necessary and goes further than what has happened in the courts,” Nelson said.

Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, said there are a variety of funding options for these programs other than state dollars.

“Only a small percent of the taxpayers’ money that goes to these programs makes up the overall funding,” Goodno said.

A similar bill was introduced last year but did not make it into the final Health and Human Services package.

Rep. Thomas Huntley, DFL-Duluth, said the bill faces no chance of passage, making Thursday’s debate pointless.

“The Senate won’t pass it, and the governor would veto it,” Huntley said. “I wonder why we are even hearing this.”

The legislation will now go before the Health and Human Services Finance Committee.

Elizabeth Putnam welcomes comments at [email protected]