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Limiting abortion funding sparks discussion on help for women in need

Abortion: A thoughtful discussion about a bill on the issue brought out very emotional testimony during the House Health and Human Services Reform Committee Thursday.

“We all have personal stories related to this issue and I hope that it allows us to see the humanity in one another as we’re making these decisions,” Rep. Peggy Flanagan (DFL-St. Louis Park) said as the members considered HF809, a bill intended to prevent the state from funding abortions for women on Medical Assistance except in cases of rape, incest, or when necessary to save the mother’s life.

The bill wouldn’t ban abortion, but respects the position of Minnesotans who oppose the practice and brings the state in line with federal policy that prevents the federal government from funding abortion services, said bill sponsor Rep. Mary Franson (R-Alexandria).

The bill was approved on a 14-8 vote and referred to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. The vote closely followed party lines, though Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing) voted in favor.

Its companion, SF702, sponsored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake), has been approved by both the Senate Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee and the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and awaits action on the Senate Floor.

“I believe that women deserve better than abortion. Providing free abortions does nothing to help women. It leaves them exactly in the same place, but without one of their children,” Franson said, adding that supportive services, like targeted home visits, are more effective at helping pregnant women in need.

Minnesota passed a law similar to HF809 in 1978, but it was struck down by a lower court ruling in 1994. The decision was upheld by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1995, making public funds available to low-income women on Medical Assistance seeking abortion services, said Andrea Rau, legislative director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. The decision could only be reversed by the court or through a constitutional amendment, said Andrea Ledger, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.

Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) critiqued Republicans for bringing the bill forward, calling it “a clear violation” of the state constitution.

Rep. Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) asserted that Republicans were bringing it forward “for political reasons” and that it couldn’t become law.

Other DFL members said the bill would limit the options of poor women, creating an unfair division between those who can pay for abortions privately and those who cannot. They urged Republicans to prove their concern for the well-being of disadvantaged women and children by advocating for party leaders to support government programs to meet their needs – especially ready access to contraception.

“A lot of (committee) members on the Republican side have carried bills that are wonderful bills, that are all about caring for people,” said Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester). “Your commitment will be seen loud and clear when the budgets come out and if you’re cutting taxes for wealthy people and there’s still a waiting list for child care.”

Republicans spoke in favor of public and private programs to support pregnant women and mothers in need, but held that the taxes of Minnesotans who oppose abortion shouldn’t be used to fund the procedure.

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) held up two pregnancy centers in her district as an example of the importance of non-judgmental education and community support. In addition to providing access to qualified counselors and medical personnel, the centers also give women in need things like diapers and clothing in return for time spent learning about everything from self-care during pregnancy to birth control options, she said.

Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) told the committee that when she unexpectedly got pregnant at age 17, she and the father, now her husband, talked about the possibility of an abortion before choosing to carry the baby to term and put him up for adoption.

“I’ve been in that position. I know what it’s like. I know that when you find out that you’re pregnant and don’t want to be, and it’s unintended, your thought is about you. I didn’t think much about the fact that I was pregnant with a baby,” Theis said.  “If I would have made a decision the first month or two when I found out, I probably wouldn’t have carried my son to term.”

She expressed concern that many women considering abortion are not always fully informed of the options available to them, especially adoption.

“I think it is health care for women. I don’t want to see a woman go through something and regret it,” Theis said. “There’s a lot of women who do feel the loss, the regret and, unfortunately … they don’t know that there’s options out there.”

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