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Showdown Over Abortion Waiting Period
By Michael Khoo
Minnesota Public Radio
May 8, 2001

The Minnesota Senate Tuesday approved a Health and Human Services funding bill with an abortion provision that Gov. Jesse Ventura has promised to veto. Supporters of legalized abortion say funding for essential state services is being held hostage to abortion politics. But abortion foes say their plan to create a 24-hour waiting period for abortions is moderate, and deserves the governor's signature.

VENTURA SENT A LETTER TO LAWMAKERS LAST WEEK, warning he would veto any legislation containing the so-called "informed consent" provision. The measure requires women seeking abortions to wait 24 hours for the procedure after receiving information on the risks and alternatives. Ventura spokesman John Wodele reaffirmed the governor's intention to veto the language if it reaches his desk. And he said it was reckless for the Senate to attach the provision to a bill that funds nursing homes, welfare benefits, and health insurance for low-income families.

"This is an important bill to a lot of people that can't even come up here. They're sick, they're old, they're poor. And it's not about how much money we spend on them. It's about being responsible and not playing games with people's lives," says Wodele.

Wodele says abortion opponents are holding the state's most vulnerable citizens hostage to the abortion fight. But Marice Rosenberg disagrees. Rosenberg is the vice president of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, a group opposed to legalized abortion. She says the waiting period is a reasonable measure that the governor should approve along with the rest of the bill.

"This is just a bill that allows women the opportunity to review and hear information about a medical procedure that is a life-long decision. And people - women, men - get an opportunity all the time to go over the medical risks, the pros and cons of surgery, no matter what it is. And that's all that this bill is about," says Rosenberg.

Supporters of legalized abortion say the waiting period is an attempt to erode access to abortion services. Tim Stanley is the executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Stanley notes the House bill also contains the waiting period - making Ventura the main obstacle to enacting the provision.

"He's the body standing between the MCCL and the women of Minnesota right now. And basically defending the rights of the women of this state to judge for themselves that they have the intelligence and integrity and the judgment to make their own reproductive decisions," says Stanley.

With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, the abortion debate could derail end of session negotiations. Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe - who supports legal abortion - says there's insufficient time to override a veto. But he says unless funding is approved, essential health and welfare services will shut down when the new biennium begins July first.

"We either have to figure out some sort of back-up strategy - maybe with a bill in the House or the Senate that could move without that language, if the governor is able to exert enough force in this process. Short of that, I would have to assume that the governor would have to have a special session," says Moe.

Wodele wouldn't speculate on whether Ventura would call a special session. He says the governor expects lawmakers to remove the abortion provision before sending the bill to his desk. But Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, says Moe should have considered end-game dynamics earlier. Fischbach authored the abortion provision - and she says DFL leaders delayed a vote on the bill for a week, minimizing the time available for compromise.

"They wasted a week laying the bill on the table and wouldn't let it go to conference, to ensure that that would be an issue, to make sure that the time was tight. But they could still conference the bill and get it back. And we can override a veto if we need to," says Fischbach.

But a veto override won't be easy. House leaders agree with Moe that time is too short. And the Senate passed the bill 43 to 22 - not enough for an override.