State Senate votes abortion provision out of deficit bill

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

State senators did some fancy footwork Monday to pass a phase two deficit reduction bill without abortion language.

The controversial amendment requiring women to wait 24 hours between seeing a doctor and receiving an abortion was tacked on to the Senate’s tax bill in committee last week, to the dismay of the committee’s chairman, Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

“Obviously I would like to figure out a way to get that off the bill,” Pogemiller said. “It’s not relevant to balancing the budget, which is our fundamental task here.”

The provision allocates $356,000 for fiscal years 2002-03 to disseminate prenatal information to patients seeking abortions. The amendment’s proponents argued the funding allocations made the provision germane to the overall bill.

Despite their efforts, senators voted 34-33 that the issue was irrelevant to the bill and thus should not be included.

“What’s wrong with women having the right to know?” said Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy. “It doesn’t do any damage, and it
doesn’t stop abortions.”

Vickerman said he is hopeful the 24-hour waiting provision will remain in a House budget bill and make it to the final conference committee, where House and Senate members will hammer out the differences.

The bill would require “objective and nonjudgmental” information be provided by the state to inform patients of the “probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the fetus.”

Under the legislation, women are not required to review the material.

But a doctor must explain to a patient health risks associated with the procedure, the status of the fetus and the father’s legal obligations by phone or in person at least 24 hours before the procedure.

“Seventy-three percent of Minnesotans support this legislation,” said Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, who authored the amendment. “It’s information.”


Abortion language in the House

While the 24-hour waiting provision is missing from Senate legislation, it’s part of three abortion-restrictive initiatives in the House’s budget bill.

The full House passed the 24-hour waiting period and language that restricts any organization referring, counseling or performing abortions from receiving state funds.

A House budget-balancing bill also cuts 25 percent of family planning special projects grants statewide.

The reduction has abortion-rights advocates and women’s health activists nervous.

Planned Parenthood and Midwest Health Center – two of six clinics providing abortions in Minnesota – have said they would cut 25 percent of their services to low-income women if the House’s plan becomes law.

“Planned Parenthood would still go on, but the number of low-income women we serve would be reduced,” said Amy Brugh, Planned Parenthood’s public affairs director.

But Rep. Kevin Goodno, R-Moorhead, said low-income women could still receive funding for health services including birth control and pap smears through state programs such as medical assistance and MinnesotaCare.

“Typically, people don’t support tax dollars going for abortion,” Goodno said.

According to fiscal year 2000 State Department of Health figures, of the 14,450 abortions in Minnesota, 2,680 women used some form of public assistance to cover the cost.

Gov. Jesse Ventura has vetoed similar legislation twice, but abortion opponents say they think they can override a veto and pass at least one of the three initiatives.

Planned Parenthood officials say there are 50 abortion-rights advocates, 78 abortion opponents and six undecided representatives in the House. In the Senate, according to the organization, says there are 31 abortion-rights advocates, 33 abortion opponents and three undecided senators.

Regardless of the legislative ratio, Pogemiller and Ventura’s administrative officials vow to keep abortion language out of conference committee discussions and state politics, which abortion-rights advocates say is relieving.

“Every time we succeed on the floor, women of this state stay safe another legislative session,” said Tim Stanley of the Minnesota National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. “We’re living year to year.”

Maggie Hessel-Mial and K.C. Howard
welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively.