Abortion bill with waiting period signed by Pawlenty

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a controversial abortion bill into law Monday, hours after the Senate passed it, and nine years after its proponents first introduced it in the Legislature.
By
  • Andrew Pritchard
April 15, 2003

Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a controversial abortion bill into law Monday, hours after the Senate passed it, and nine years after its proponents first introduced it in the Legislature.

The bill - known as the "Woman's Right to Know" proposal - requires that a woman seeking an abortion wait 24 hours and that her doctor tell her the medical risks of the abortion procedure and carrying the baby to term, the "probable gestational age" of her fetus, and that financial assistance might be available from the state and the father.

"I think this bill will do a lot to inform women," said Scott Fischbach, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life executive director.

The bill also provides for the state to create printed materials and a Web site with information on public and private pregnancy assistance agencies throughout the state and the fetus' "probable anatomical and physiological characteristics" - including the disputed claim that a fetus feels pain during an abortion procedure.

"Today the state of Minnesota said, 'Doctors, we're going to tell you what to say to patients,' " said Jane Miscavage, communications director for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota and South Dakota.

Although the act mandates that state-provided material be "objective, nonjudgmental, and designed to convey only accurate scientific information," the information will mislead women, Miscavage said.

"What changes is she will now be given false information or junk science," Miscavage said.

The state has an informed consent requirement for all medical procedures, Miscavage said, and a woman seeking an abortion already must wait more than 24 hours.

"It's a three- to five-day wait anyway, just the way clinics are scheduled," she said.

Fischbach said the bill's passage was a victory for grass-roots abortion opponents, who were defeated in eight previous legislative sessions.

"I think it's a real testament to the strength of the voters and the people of Minnesota who stuck to it," he said.

Legislative majority

November's elections gave abortion opponents a majority in both houses of the Legislature for the first time since the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973.

According to Planned Parenthood, 27 of Minnesota's 67 state senators are abortion-rights supporters, as are 38 of 134 state representatives.

The Democrat-controlled Senate voted 41-24 in favor of the bill, which was included as a provision in unrelated legislation legalizing circuses around the time of the Minnesota State Fair.

Democratic Sen. Larry Pogemiller, who represents the University's Minneapolis campus, voted against the measure, as did Sen. Ellen Anderson, the Democrat who represents the St. Paul campus.

The House, where Republicans have a majority, passed the bill April 7 by a 90-39 vote.

Pawlenty had previously said he would sign the measure if it reached his desk, and he appeared Jan. 22 at MCCL's annual rally on the Roe v. Wade decision's anniversary.

Pawlenty called the bill a "moderate, reasonable piece of legislation" that reached "common ground" on abortion.

Constitutionality

Fischbach said abortion opponents will likely still have to defend the Woman's Right to Know Act's constitutionality.

"We would anticipate that there would be a court challenge," he said, adding that courts in other states have upheld similar laws.

Miscavage said lawyers and scholars nationwide are watching Minnesota to see how arguments over the act unfold in court.

"It's unclear what the challenge will be and what the premise will be," she said.

The act grants the Minnesota Supreme Court original jurisdiction over any challenge to the law and directs the court to "expedite the resolution of the action."

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a 24-hour waiting period in the 1992 case Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

Eighteen other states already have waiting periods for abortions, including one passed in West Virginia earlier this year.

Up next

Still on the abortion docket at the Legislature this session is MCCL's second-priority proposal, the plan known as the "Taxpayer Protection Act" to abortion opponents and the "super gag rule" to abortion-rights supporters.

The bill, House file 436, would prohibit tax dollars from going to groups or facilities that promote, perform or provide referrals for abortion.

Miscavage said abortion-rights supporters would "appeal to more reasonable and moderate minds in the Senate" to defeat the bill.

Fischbach said MCCL will continue building grass-roots support and also focus on its proposals to fight euthanasia and health-care rationing.

Abortion numbers falling

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1.31 million abortions were performed in the United States in 2000, a 3 percent decline from 1996 that followed a 12 percent decline from 1992-96.

The number of abortions nationwide has been falling from an all-time 1990 high of more than 1.6 million. The number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 has been falling since the mid-1980s.

The Guttmacher survey of abortion providers found 14,610 abortions in Minnesota in 2000, down from 14,660 in 1996 and 16,180 in 1992.

Minnesota's abortion rate has always been below the national average.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 22 percent of pregnancies for women aged 15 to 44 ended in abortion in 1996, down from 24 percent in 1976.

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Andrew Pritchard welcomes comments at apritchard@mndaily.com

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