Minnesotans split on abortion ban legislation

Molly Moker

With President George W. Bush expected any day to sign into law a bill banning “partial-birth abortion” procedures, experts on both sides debate future abortion rights.

Congress passed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 earlier this month, but Joanne Miller, a University political science professor, said the courts will likely overturn the law.

In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Nebraska that outlawed “partial birth abortion” because it did not include sufficient provisions to ensure the health of the mother and did not specify which procedures were outlawed.

Miller said that, based on the Nebraska precedent, the ban could be overturned in federal courts before reaching the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. Mark Dayton, D-Minn., said he voted against the bill for that reason.

“That bill is unconstitutional because it does not permit an exception to the ban when necessary for the health of the mother,” Dayton said.

State Rep. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, agreed the ban will be challenged by abortion rights organizations.

“The bill is too ambiguous,” Latz said. “The way it’s written needs to be more specific.”

However, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., said he doubted the ban will be overturned.

“The bill is drafted to withhold to the Constitution,” Coleman said. “The bill will outlaw a horrific procedure and is not trying to outlaw abortion as a whole.”

He said that because the Senate passed the bill with an “overwhelming” 64-34 vote, it has even more validity.

Tim Stanley, executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League Pro-Choice Minnesota, said the ban is not only unconstitutional but also dangerous.

Stanley said the bill is so broadly written that it can be interpreted to outlaw many safe abortion procedures.

“Many procedures after 12 weeks could become illegal,” Stanley said. “If this passes, physicians will have to interpret the law and take time to determine if their medical procedures are deemed legal. They should not have to be concerned with this.”

But Bob Hindel, president of Neighbors for Life, a Minnesota organization that opposes abortion, said the ban is “outstanding” and ensures safety.

“This law has acknowledged that abortion laws have gone way too far,” Hindel said. “If the baby is already coming down the birth canal, it generally means (the birth) poses no danger for the mother.”

Hindel said he has no doubt the law will be challenged in court, but he said it is a major victory that the public has spoken out against that abortion procedure.

“This law shows that the public is aware that things have gotten out of hand,” Hindel said. “Abortions are being taken to extremes.”

Sign of things to come?

Since the Minnesota Legislature also passed two abortion restrictions last spring, activists are already planning a tug of war targeting other abortion rights.

The Minnesota 24-hour waiting period law requires that women wait one day before abortions and be provided with materials and counseling from their doctors before the procedure.

Minnesota also enacted a two-parent notification law for minors, which requires women under age 18 to notify both parents before getting an abortion.

Jim Tarsney, president of Minnesota Lawyers for Life, said the “partial birth abortion” ban is symbolic of public opinion.

Tarsney said he hopes the political momentum from the “partial birth abortion” ban will help encourage further action against abortions.

“It’s a small step forward,” Tarsney said. “But we’ll have to wait and see if anything will actually result from it.”

Dayton said although the ban is likely to be overturned, he also expects politicians opposed to abortion to use it as a jumping-off point.

“It seems clear that the bill’s proponents intend this law, the first-ever federal ban on a medical procedure, as the first step toward taking all abortion-related decisions away from women and their doctors,” Dayton said.

But Miller said the ban does not signify a coming trend in abortion restriction.

” ‘Partial birth abortion’ is easy to pinpoint and outlaw because the procedure is so grotesque,” Miller said. “But other abortion rights most likely will not be touched.”

Latz said he, also, hoped the new laws are not the beginning of more to come.

He voted against the 24-hour waiting period law and said legislation about abortion procedures is not appropriate.

“I don’t believe the government should be able to dictate what medical procedures are appropriate,” Latz said. “That should be left to the doctor and the patient.”

Stanley said supporting legislators such as Dayton – who he said is a major player for his group’s cause – and other abortion rights supporters is their strategy for Minnesota.

He said they are working to make sure the state elects a democratic president “who will support women’s choice.”

Hindel said Neighbors for Life is working to amend the Minnesota Constitution to forbid tax money from funding abortions.