By Bill Poehler
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Communications Director
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed two moderate pro-life initiatives after their approval by the state House and Senate. Both measures sought to protect women’s safety by instituting common-sense requirements that did not restrict access to abortion, and had the strong support of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), the state NRLC affiliate. MCCL testified on behalf of these bills at many committee hearings, making the case that they were important to protect women’s health.
The first bill sought to institute minimal safety standards at abortion facilities. S.F. 1921 was authored by Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, and Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, who sought to bring the state’s six surgical abortion facilities in line with the state’s other outpatient surgical centers.
“This veto highlights Gov. Dayton’s commitment to protecting the abortion industry, even when it results in putting women’s health at risk,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. “Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures in Minnesota, and there is no way for women to know if they are going to be in a safe or clean facility.”
The bill would have required facilities that perform 10 or more abortions per month to be licensed, and authorized the state department of health to perform inspections of abortion facilities. It passed with overwhelming bipartisan approval in the Legislature. In 2010, a total of 11,505 abortions were performed in the state.
“Women need to know that the Minnesota Department of Health has zero oversight of abortion facilities and cannot ensure their safety, because Gov. Dayton has forbidden it,” Fischbach continued.
Abortion facilities have been granted special exemption from licensing that governs other outpatient surgical centers in the state. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU testified against the bill in committee hearings, arguing that abortion facilities should remain unlicensed and uninspected. However, state lawmakers agreed that this exemption cannot be justified when it comes to safeguarding women.
In a letter to Dayton after the bill was approved by the Legislature, Holberg and Robling defended the requirements as reasonable and sensible.
“Prior to the legalization of abortion in 1973, supporters of abortion often argued that the procedure should be brought out of the back rooms in order to protect the well-being of women. Without state licensing and inspections, there is no guarantee that women’s health is being protected,” they wrote. “This proposed regulation is to provide protection before a dangerous situation develops.”
The second bill would have banned “webcam abortions” in which a woman is not allowed to consult in the physical presence of a physician prior to the procedure.
“Once again, Gov. Dayton has come to the defense of the abortion industry at the expense of women’s safety,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. “This is the seventh pro-life initiative that would protect women and unborn children that has been vetoed. The Dayton record is now clear: he is no friend of women or their babies.”
H.F. 2341, authored by Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, and Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, would have stopped dangerous webcam abortions by requiring that a physician be physically present when administering the drugs for a chemical abortion. Webcam abortions involve the RU486 abortion drug, administered via video conference with an abortion provider in another location. The doctor talks with the woman, then presses a button which opens a drawer to remotely dispense the drug.
The doctor is never physically present in a webcam abortion to examine the woman for a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy or any other condition or factor that would make this abortion procedure especially dangerous for her. Planned Parenthood began offering webcam abortions last year at its Rochester facility; women consult with a doctor in St. Paul. The webcam abortion method is cost-effective for Planned Parenthood, allowing it to forgo a surgical center and on-site physician.
“This legislation focuses primarily on the life of the mother,” Gazelka said during floor debate. “A doctor will do the exam to make sure the woman is a proper patient for this. So this is certainly looking out for the best interest of the mother but not the best interest of the abortion provider.”
The risks of RU486 can be severe: 14 women are known to have died in the U.S. after taking the drugs, according to the Food and Drug Administration. At least six states, including North Dakota and Wisconsin, have already enacted webcam abortion bans, and other states are currently working to pass legislation to the same effect. Canada does not permit use of RU486 due to safety concerns.
“This is a very serious and dangerous drug and we just don’t want to take this lightly,” Peppin said during floor debate. “The FDA requires a physician to administer this drug.”
Planned Parenthood introduced webcam abortions in Iowa in 2008 at one location; now it promotes them at nearly all of its 17 Iowa locations. Planned Parenthood has 18 locations in Minnesota and could greatly expand availability of this dangerous abortion method.
MCCL supported two other bills that have become law. One broadened eligibility for the Positive Alternatives grant program by permitting a program in existence for at least one year as of July 1, 2011, rather than 2005, to be eligible for funding. Positive Alternatives has provided grants since July 2006 to programs that help pregnant women in need by providing them with the resources and support to bring her child to term.
The other legislation expands options for mothers at risk of harming their newborn babies. Minnesota’s Safe Place for Newborns law (Minnesota Statutes 2010, section 145.902) originally provided a woman, after giving birth, a three-day window in which she is allowed to place her newborn baby at a hospital and walk away, no questions asked. The newborn must be unharmed. Several babies have been presented at hospitals under the Safe Place for Newborns law.
The 2012 “Give Life a Chance” legislation widens the options for mothers of newborns under the state’s Safe Place for Newborns law. A newborn may now be placed at a hospital, urgent care provider or with ambulance personnel (by calling 911) by the mother or a person with the mother’s permission. The law expands the relinquishment time period to seven days from birth.
“Give Life a Chance will save more lives, thanks to these greater accommodations for mothers who are at risk,” Fischbach added. “No newborn baby in Minnesota should ever be harmed because the mother is not able to provide care.”