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House attempts another round of abortion reforms

A pair of abortion proposals have begun making their way through the House committee process.

One proposal would hold facilities that perform 10 or more abortions per month to the same standards as outpatient surgical centers. Another measure would not allow state money to be used to fund abortions. The House Health and Human Services Reform Committee approved several bills related to the two and referred them to other committees.

Licensing abortion facilities

Rep. Debra Kiel (R-Crookston) sponsors HF606 that would require clinics that perform at least 10 abortions per month to be licensed by the Health Department, similar to outpatient surgical centers.

House Photography file photo

The bill, approved 12-9 along party lines, also would allow spot inspections by the department, require an annual licensing fee of $3,712, and includes a $63,000 appropriation to the health commissioner for licensing activities. It now moves to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. Sen. Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) sponsors a companion, SF616, which awaits action by the Senate Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.

Five facilities who perform about 9,000 abortions a year in Minnesota would need to conform to more stringent licensing standards as an outpatient surgical center. Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed an identical bill in 2012, according to Deputy Health Commissioner Dan Pollock. There is already a law allowing licensing of abortion facilities, but an injunction prevents the department from creating licensing rules, he added.

Opponents balked at the suggestion that this was a safety issue. Providers said the bill is designed to run them out of business, making access to safe abortions more difficult, especially in rural areas.

“I’m not debating the right to have an abortion, but I am debating the right to be safe,” Kiel said.

Women’s Health Center of Duluth would have to spend an estimated $800,000 to comply under outpatient surgical center guidelines, according to Laurie Casie, the center’s executive director. Facility improvements would include new flooring, HVAC system, bathroom facilities, plumbing and moving walls to come into compliance.

Casie and others argued that facility renovations would have no bearing on providing better health care to pregnant women seeking abortions, which is 14 times safer than actually giving birth, said Jane Laine, Whole Women’s Health administrator. It singles out one procedure among many.

Proponents said abortion clinics are not being singled out. Rather, they should have been treated as outpatient surgical centers all along because they are pre-diagnosed, one-time, procedures that do not require an overnight stay at a medical facility, as centers are defined.

State funding for abortions

Sponsored by Rep. Cindy Pugh (R-Chanhassen), HF787 would ban state-sponsored health care funds from being used to pay for abortions, except when the woman’s life is at risk or if the pregnancy was a result of incest or rape (a federal mandate).

House Health and Human Services Reform Committee - part 2

The bill, approved 12-8, now moves to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. SF800, a companion sponsored by Sen. Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa), awaits action by the House Health, Human Services and Housing Committee.

“Abortion has become a bit of an industry in Minnesota and taxpayers are footing one-third of the bill,” Pugh said.

Her bill would conform Minnesota abortion funding laws to federal statute, which also forbids tax-funded abortions, except in certain cases. An estimated $1 million in state funds are spent annually to pay for abortions, according to Andrea Rau, legislative director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Opponents said the measure would discriminate against low-income women and those on public assistance who otherwise could not afford an abortion. The result is women waiting longer to have an abortion when the risks increase, or not having one and continuing the cycle of poverty, said Andrea Ledger, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.

Constitutional tight rope

Then there’s the constitutional aspect to consider. Previous abortion measures have landed the state in court and some believe these bills could be headed down a similar path.

Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have appropriated $3.2 million from the General Fund to provide grants to facilities that would have to upgrade their buildings.

A woman’s right to have an abortion is protected under the U.S. Constitution and HF606 would “interfere” with those rights if facilities in Greater Minnesota have to close as a result, he said.

In 1995, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that the use of public funds for childbirth, but not abortions, violates a women’s right to privacy, according to William Mitchell College of Law Professor Raleigh Levine.

Despite the opposition to both issues, Rau said she believes there is support in the House to pass the measures. As for the Senate and a gubernatorial pen, Rau said she prefers to take it one body at a time. 

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