After two days of testimony, a pair of anti-abortion rights bills passed key committees in the Minnesota House this week, one to ban abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy and another to ban taxpayer funding for abortions. Religious leaders came down on both sides of the issue, while legal and medical experts said the bills were poor policy. In the Senate, yet another bill to ban abortion at 20 weeks was introduced on Thursday bringing the total bills in the legislature to curtail abortion rights to nine so far this session.
On Tuesday, the Health and Human Services Reform Committee passed a bill to ban abortion at 20 weeks on a voice vote. Andrea Rau of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life told the committee, “This legislation is not so much about stopping abortions as it is about protecting the ‘pain-capable unborn child.'”
She added, “This is mainstream common sense kind of legislation. There is a consensus that at 20 weeks an unborn child feels pain.”
Republican Rep. Mike Benson of Rochester asked, “How many babies would we be saving from this procedure?”
“In 2009, there were eight abortions that took place after this 20 week threshold. Admittedly this is a small portion of abortions in Minnesota.”
The Archdiocese of of St. Paul and Minneapolis sent a priest, Fr. Andrew Cozzins, to testify in favor of the ban.
“Abortion is too often a permanent solution, an easy solution, and not treated like it should be: a very difficult painful thing,” he said.
But for Alicia Hemple that decision was the most heartbreaking of her life.
“This past summer, I became pregnant with what would have been my second child,” she said. “My baby showed signs of a chromosome disorder. I was having a baby girl and she had Trisoma 18. Fifty percent don’t make it to full term, only 10 percent live to see their first birthday.”
She and her family decided that terminating the pregnancy was the best option.
“With this proposed bill I would have not been able to save my baby from the pain she would have endured from hours, maybe days and possibly even months until she died,” Hemple said.
Hemple’s story mirrors another mother in Nebraska – the only other state with a similar ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy – who was prevented by the law from having an abortion after complications arose in her pregnancy.
It was Hamline law professor David Schultz’s testimony that created some tense moments at the hearing.
Schultz said that the bill was unconstitutional based on precedent in Minnesota (his testimony can be read here).
Republican Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen of Glencoe asked if Schultz had a problem with a hospital performing fetal surgery in one wing and “tearing that child to pieces” in another wing.
“I’m asking you as a human being, does that not concern you?” he asked.
Schultz responded, “Whatever my personal beliefs may be, I am here speaking as a constitutional law professor.”
Gruenhagen took that answer as an excuse to slam the public education system. “If our education system is creating experts with that type of response in regard to a human being, it is a sad day for our educational system and higher educational system.”
Dr. Carrie Terrell, a gynecologist at the University of Minnesota testified that there is not a consensus on fetal pain at 20 weeks and said that that may not even matter.
“If we suspect that vaginal birth to be painful [for the fetus] would you pass a law outlawing vaginal birth and requiring c-sections?” she asked.
The bill passed the committee by a voice vote.
On Wednesday, the committee heard another bill on abortion, this time to ban taxpayer funding for abortion procedures.
Republican Rep. Peggy Scott of Andover, the chief author of the bill, said, “This bill is common sense and mainstream. It does not address the right to abortion. It seeks to protect women from gratuitous free abortions and the taxpayer from paying for free abortions.”
Jordan Bauer of MCCL testified, “State tax money is used for a lot of very good things, but in recent years our dollars have been diverted to the purpose of killing unborn children… to end the lives of Minnesotans.”
Doug Donley, pastor of University Baptist Church, testified against the bill. “The choice to have a child is a sacred one,” he said, adding that comprehensive sex education and lifting women out of poverty “are the best tools to stem the need for abortions.”
He added, “To ban abortion would lead to desperate measures by women; abortion would still occur. In a perfect world no woman would choose abortion, but we are not in a perfect world yet.”
He concluded, “As a person of faith, I am duty-bound to advocate for the health and rights of all people.”
DFL Rep. Tina Liebling of Rochester drew a comparison to war funding. “Some of us don’t like war but we pay for war through our tax dollars,” she said. “As long as abortion is legal, we should let women make those decisions whether they are wealthy or poor.”
DFL Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul noted that the committee had already discussed cutting welfare for poor women.
“I am a mother of seven who chose to have seven children and that was my choice,” she said. “We want to turn around after we have capped benefits for poor women, and then we want to force a mother to bring life into this world – and I love babies, there’s nothing better than that, but that’s my choice – but then we don’t want to support the lives that are here.”
Republican Rep. Kathy Lohmer of Lake Elmo noted, “Jesus was an unintended pregnancy. We aren’t God and these are human beings.”
Republican Rep. Joe McDonald of Delano added, “This bill is not an attack on women. This bill is to stop the attack on babies.”
The bill passed 13-4.