Abortion bills advance on party lines in state Senate

Critics say the proposed legislation violates the Minnesota Constitution.
April 13, 2011

Two bills aimed at limiting abortion in Minnesota passed a state Senate committee Tuesday.
One of the bills eliminates need-based state funding for abortions; the other prohibits abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization. Both were passed down party lines in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
But should the Legislature approve the bills, they still face opposition from the governor’s office. While Gov. Mark Dayton  had no specific comment on the legislation, Katharine Tinucci, his press secretary, said in an email that the governor has been firmly pro-choice his entire political career.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, chief author of the bill to eliminate public funding for abortions, said Minnesota goes beyond federal requirements in allowing anyone to get an abortion if she can prove that she is unable to pay for it herself.
Under federal law, abortions only need to be publically funded in specific circumstances, such as life-threatening complications for the mother or fetus, rape or incest, Thompson said. His bill would still allow for those kinds of publically funded abortions.
Critics of the bill said it violates the Minnesota Constitution.
Raleigh Levine, a professor at William Mitchell College of Law, said the Minnesota Supreme Court decided in 1995 that women have a right to publically funded abortions because other medical services are paid for by the state.
Levine said the state Supreme Court would likely find Thompson’s statute to go against the Constitution’s implied rights of medical privacy.
The other bill, known as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, makes it a felony to provide an abortion 20 weeks after fertilization.
Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said the bill is based on research that says fetuses can feel pain 20 weeks after fertilization.
Some proponents of similar legislation have pointed to research by Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor of neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, which says 20 weeks after fertilization fetuses have displayed responses to stimuli that suggest they feel pain.
However, a center for reproductive health at the University of California in San Francisco wrote a letter to the state Legislature saying research into the 20-week pain threshold was inconclusive.
Currently, Minnesota law allows all abortions unless a baby is able to live outside of a womb, Levine said.
Hoffman’s bill would allow abortions 20 weeks after fertilization only if the woman’s life is at risk, but not in the cases of rape, incest or if the woman’s health would be permanently affected due to the pregnancy.
Again, Levine said the Minnesota Supreme Court, based on their prior decisions, could find Hoffman’s bill unconstitutional.
But Teresa Collett, law professor at the University of St. Thomas, said a Nebraska abortion statute passed in October, which Hoffman’s bill is based on, has not been challenged as unconstitutional.
Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis, said she is concerned by a provision in the bill that gives money to Minnesota’s attorney general to prosecute cases where the abortions were provided after 20 weeks after fertilization.
While Hoffman said the fund will come from private donations, Berglin was concerned that the language of the bill was unclear and suggested that the money would come from state taxes.
The bills were referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Two companion bills are also making their way through the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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