Hoping to sway votes, students lobby against abortion bills

Libby George

Students from 15 colleges across the state converged on the Capitol on Monday morning in an effort to sway legislators to vote against legislation regulating access to abortion.

As part of the Pro-Choice Student Day of Action, an estimated 60 Minnesota students from the state’s chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League held a press conference to raise awareness for abortion rights issues. The day was organized by NARAL.

“Family planning funds are in danger of being restricted, which would increase the number of unplanned pregnancies,” said Jessica Krary, a Minnesota State-Mankato student and NARAL intern.

NARAL executive director Tim Stanley said at least six University students were involved in the activities.

The students’ main concerns were two pieces of legislation, which they have dubbed the “Women’s Right to Know” bill and the “Super Gag Rule” bill.

The first would require women seeking an abortion to wait 24 hours and be given state-mandated information on abortion alternatives. The second prohibits many state family planning funds from going to organizations that provide, counsel or refer women to abortions.

Speaker of the House Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, who co-authored a bill that would restrict state money from funding abortions, said the legislation is reasonable and supported by taxpayers.

“The ‘Women’s Right to Know’ bill seems to be an extremely moderate piece of legislation,” Sviggum said. He added that it is realistic to expect that women make informed decisions.

The group also opposes different legislation that would bar state funding from paying for abortion services. Currently, Medicaid-eligible women can finance abortions with state funds.

Sviggum said there was nothing wrong with that bill.

“Taxpayers should be able to trust that their money is not paying for abortions,” Sviggum said.

The group also advocated the passage of the Emergency Care for Sexual Assault Victims Act of 2003, which would provide emergency contraceptives to survivors of sexual assault.

Kelsey Collier-Wise, University Choice Coalition president, said it’s important legislators see student support for bills like the emergency care bill.

“I think a lot of people are in favor of that kind of bill, especially on campus, and (legislators) need to see that,” Collier-Wise said.

Under Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s budget plan, state funding for family planning remains constant at $5 million, but students said restrictions on funding would limit the program’s effectiveness. They added that prevention is economical for the state because it saves money down the road in aid to families who cannot afford their children.

The students said the legislation would restrict access entirely for poor and rural women who cannot afford to return after 24 hours for abortions, or afford them without state-funded programs.

“The cuts literally mean the difference between receiving care and being turned away,” Macalester College student Alex Kendall said. “Allowing women to make the best decision is the best for the health of women, children, families and for the state of Minnesota.”

Sviggum said he did not buy that argument, adding that the bill would only insist that women make informed decisions.

Dire situation

NARAL said they were optimistic, but conscious of tough odds.

“The House is so antichoice it’s going to make it difficult,” Stanley said.

He added that the group’s ideal outcome was keeping the bills in committee, and that success in a floor vote would hinge on “a few votes in the Senate.”

According to Minnesota NARAL, about 70 percent of the House opposes abortion, along with 60 percent of the Senate. The numbers come from questionnaires given to legislators by NARAL.

Stanley said the lack of legislators who support abortion rights is exacerbated by Pawlenty, who, he said, is “actively anti-choice.” Former Gov. Jesse Ventura vetoed similar anti-abortion bills at least twice.

Sviggum said that regardless of the outcome, a floor vote should take place.

“I respect people’s difference of opinions on the issue; I just think the process should be open and fair,” Sviggum said. He added if the bills came to a floor vote, he was confident they would pass.

Collier-Wise was optimistic the emergency contraceptive legislation would pass, but was concerned about the consequences of the other legislation.

“It’s our generation who will be dealing with the consequences,” she said, adding that she thinks the state will see an increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Stanley said the best hope is to look toward future elections.

“If I were a woman in this state right now, I’d be thinking ‘who am I going to get elected in 2004 that will represent me,’ ” Stanley said.

Libby George covers politics and welcomes comments at [email protected]