In the Spotlight

News & Features
Standoff Over Abortion Looms at Capitol
By Laura McCallum, Minnesota Public Radio
May 1, 2001

Abortion politics played out in the Minnesota Senate as an abortion waiting period, vetoed by Gov. Ventura last year, was added to a massive health-spending bill. The abortion provision prompted the bill's sponsor to set the spending package aside before a final vote. Abortion opponents call the move an abuse of power, but supporters of legalized abortion say they're not willing to put an $8 billion bill at risk of a gubernatorial veto.

Volunteers for Planned Parenthood, the National Abortion Rights Action League, and Minnesota National Organization for Women staked out Senate chambers, knowing there would be attempts to attach informed consent and restrictions on family-planning money to the health and human services bill.
(MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
THE LEGISLATURE COULD BE HEADED for the very same standoff it faced last year, when the House and Senate passed the "Women's Right to Know Bill" and Gov. Ventura vetoed it. The provision would require women to receive certain information about abortion 24 hours before having the procedure.

Ventura says he'll veto the provision again. The difference is this year, both bodies have included the waiting period in the health and human services spending bill, which also funds nursing homes, welfare, services for people with disabilities and health insurance for low-income Minnesotans.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Minneapolis DFLer Linda Berglin, pleaded with her colleagues not to put the abortion provision in her bill.

"That is a big concern here, folks, there's been a lot of work, a lot of you all have bills in this bill that you want funded, and I just think we're going down a very dangerous road here," Berglin said.

DFL Majority Leader Roger Moe of Erskine urged the Senate not to jeopardize a bill that spends more than $8 billion on health and human services and corrections. But supporters of the provision say they can't worry about what the governor might do.

The high-ranking chair of the Finance Committee, DFLer Doug Johnson of Tower, says Senate Democrats are also at odds with the governor on using this year's surplus. Ventura wants to rebate the money, while Johnson's caucus wants to spend half on one-time transportation, health care and higher-education projects.

"I think that there is an identical comparison between this issue before us on the floor and the rebate, in that this Senate has the right to make these decisions independent of what one person on the first floor of this Capitol might say," Johnson said.

"He'll wait until somebody gets sick or somebody has a doctor's appointment; he has done this for years. It is a total abuse of power."

- Marice Rosenberg
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life
Abortion opponents say the provision is simply about giving women information on the risks of the procedure and of carrying the fetus to term, the probable gestational age of the fetus, and the medical assistance benefits available.

Supporters of legalized abortion say women are already given information about the procedure, and the bill infringes on the relationship between a woman and her doctor.

After the Senate voted 36-31 to add the waiting period to the health bill, Sen. Berglin moved to table the bill, ostensibly to give opponents of the provision more time to twist arms.

Marice Rosenberg, vice president of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, says Majority Leader Moe will "do anything to kill the measure."

"He'll wait until somebody gets sick or somebody has a doctor's appointment; he has done this for years. It is a total abuse of power," according to Rosenberg.

Rosenberg says a majority of legislators support the provision. Moe says he'll let them show their support, but not in the health and human services bill.

"We'll have other bills here that I can bring up that are germane, because that's basically what it is. It's to get a vote on this, and I just would hope that they would not put a controversial amendment like this in a budget bill that is necessary," Moe said.

Moe showed one of his potential bargaining chips before the Senate adjourned without passing the health and human services bill. He said he may reconsider a state government funding bill that passed earlier in the day - a bill that contains many spending items precious to certain senators, who may or may not be convinced to change their minds on including the abortion waiting period in the health bill.