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Franson's anti-abortion bill advances

Mary Franson

In 2011 and 2012, Republican lawmakers passed bills to require abortion providers be licensed and to block state health programs such as Medicaid from paying for abortion.

And Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed them both.

Now back in control of the Legislature, Republicans are trying again.

The state House of Representatives on April 24 passed a measure, House File 809, banning Medicaid or any other state-funded health program from funding abortions. These programs have funded abortions in Minnesota since the 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The chief author is Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, who represents the Osakis area.

"My constituents and I do not feel that we should be paying to end the life of an unborn child," said Franson. "Unfortunately, the number of taxpayer funded abortions continues to rise in Minnesota. We should conform to federal standards and join the 33 other states that currently ban taxpayer funded abortions."

Opponents said it discriminated against poor people who rely on Medicaid and similar programs.

"We don't tell women that if they want other kinds of health care, they should go seek charity to be able to have that," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.

The measure passed 77-54, with four Democrats joining all but two Republicans in support. A similar measure is moving through the Senate. Dayton has promised to veto it, just as he did in 2011.

Another bill would require clinics to be licensed.

The bill targeting state funding for abortions is essentially the same as the one Dayton vetoed. But the abortion licensure is different, in a way that supporters said was an attempt at compromise.

By lowering the requirements abortion providers would have to meet to become licensed, backers said they hoped to win over Dayton and other abortion-rights supporters.

"There is nothing left in this bill to object to," said Andrea Rau, legislative director for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

It drew objections anyway, including attacks from Democrats on the House floor. Dayton remains opposed to both measures.

"The governor opposes any new law restricting a woman's right to make her own medical decisions," Dayton's assistant chief of staff Matt Swenson said.

The second measure would require the state Department of Health to license abortion providers. But unlike similar measures introduced by Republican lawmakers in past years, the measure passed on April 24 doesn't force abortion providers to meet the same requirements applied to outpatient surgery centers.

Supporters of abortion rights have argued that those outpatient surgery standards are unfair to apply to abortion providers, because those standards include provisions about door widths and climate control systems that abortion clinics weren't built for.

The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down some similar provisions from Texas on the grounds that the requirements didn't provide benefits to justify the burden complying placed on abortion providers.

So supporters of licensing abortion providers took a different tack: They dropped the requirement to meet outpatient surgery standards and instead proposed requiring abortion providers to meet the accreditation standards put out by Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation.

"Our goal has always been to protect women, not to shut down clinics, but the other side of the aisle didn't believe us," said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston.

Even after the new language, Democrats and abortion rights activists still didn't believe it.

"It's about singling out abortion providers in an attempt to make abortion less accessible in the state and make it harder for abortion providers to provide this legal service," said Jen Aulwes, communications director for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota.

The five major abortion providers in the state apparently all comply with the standards set forth in the revised bill — which both sides say bolsters their argument. Anti-abortion lawmakers said they were merely hoping to prevent any future rogue abortion providers from providing the service in an unsafe way, while abortion-rights supporters said the regulation isn't needed because all the state's providers meet its requirements.

The licensing bill passed 79-53, with four Democrats and all but one Republican voting yes.

Both measures now must pass the Senate, where Republicans have a much narrower majority than they do in the House. If the bills pass there, they'll head to Dayton's desk.

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