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Legislators Brace for Abortion Fight
By Michael Khoo
January 22, 2001
Part of MPR's online coverage of Session 2001
Click for audio RealAudio

Several thousand abortion opponents demonstrated on the steps of the state Capitol to mark the 28th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. The crowd cheered the new political landscape, in particular the swearing-in of President George W. Bush, and promised to push for more restrictions on the procedure. But groups who support legal access to abortion are vowing not to give up the fight.

Marice Rosenburg, MCCL vice president, speaks to several thousands abortion protestors at a Capitol rally on January 22.
(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
ABORTION ISSUES and the ability of the new president to appoint Supreme Court justices figured heavily in the final days of last year's campaign. With President Bush now in office, abortion opponents - Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life among them - are claiming victory.

MCCL Vice President Marice Rosenberg spoke to a crowd of many thousands, listing the gains the movement made at the national level as well as those here in Minnesota. That includes majorities in both houses of the state Legislature and a new Senate president - DFLer Don Samuelson of Brainerd, who favors abortion restrictions.

"Oh what a difference one election and one year can make," Rosenberg shouted from the steps of the Capitol.

That difference was not lost on Tim Stanley, the executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League's state affiliate. At a separate news conference, he acknowledged the shift in the political climate.

"The opponents of choice have tremendous power. They sit in court houses and on hospital boards. They run medical schools. And now, as of Saturday noon, they control all three branches of the federal government as well as both bodies of the Minnesota Legislature," he said.

NARAL is joining other abortion-rights groups to launch a media campaign in support of reproductive rights.

Pat Sandin, of the Midwest Health Center for Women, says the target audience is 18 to 25 year old women - women who hadn't been born when the landmark Roe v. Wade decision was handed down.

Sandin says younger generations might not appreciate how difficult it was to secure that Constitutional protection.

"While this is an educational piece, we hope to carry it a little bit forward and say, 'You have got to get out there and vote. You have got to become politically active and let people know that you are going to stand up for this choice and that you're not going to let it erode,'" Sandin said.

Tim Stanley, the executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League's Minnesota affiliate acknowledged the shift in the political climate in Minnesota and nationwide that could lead to more restrictions on abortion.

(MPR Photo/Michael Khoo)
But the abortion foes clearly feel the momentum is on their side. Lawmakers are also contemplating a ban on certain late-term abortions known by opponents as partial-birth abortion.

Julie Finn travelled from Wayzata to attend the MCCL rally. She says the partial-birth procedure could be a springboard for other restrictions.

"Partial-birth abortion, as horrible as it is, has let the ordinary American person, who's maybe not looking into this, say, 'That's infanticide and I don't go for that.' I think that has made a difference," Finn said.

MCCL lobbyist Gail Jude told the crowd she's asking for state funding to be cut off from groups that offer abortion services or referrals, perhaps through a state constitutional amendment; and a re-introduction of the so-called Women's Right to Know Bill. That measure sets up a waiting period during which time a woman seeking the procedure must review information on health risks and alternatives.

A Right to Know bill passed the Legislature last year, but was vetoed by Gov. Jesse Ventura. An amendment to prohibit state funds from going to groups like Planned Parenthood would bypass the governor's desk and, if passed by the Legislature, appear on the 2002 ballot for voter approval. But sponsors of the legislation acknowledge they'll have a hard time maneuvering the proposal through the Senate committee structure, where Senate Majority Leader - and abortion rights supporter - Roger Moe wields considerable influence.

Michael Khoo covers politics for Minnesota Public Radio. Reach him via e-mail at