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Abortion Waiting Period Passes in House
By Laura McCallum
Minnesota Public Radio
May 11, 2001
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The Minnesota House has voted 89-43 for a $6.3 billion health and human services funding bill, that includes a 24-hour abortion waiting period. Gov. Jesse Ventura says he'll veto the entire bill if it arrives on his desk with the abortion provision. His veto would cut off state funding for programs ranging from nursing homes to welfare on July 1. Supporters of the waiting period say Ventura should reconsider his threat.

THE WIDE-RANGING BILL INCLUDES a three percent increase for nursing homes in each of the next two years, money for teen pregnancy prevention, welfare reform and services for people with disabilities and mental illness. But most of the controversy is focused on six pages in the more than 600-page bill.

The "women's right to know" provision requires women to wait 24 hours after receiving information on the risks and alternatives to abortion before having the procedure. Abortion rights supporters say it's unnecessary, because women already receive information before having an abortion. But Republican Rep. Alice Seagren, R-Bloomington, says it's reasonable to set a higher standard for abortion, because it's unlike any other medical procedure.

"We're focusing a lot on what happens to the woman's health with an abortion. We also should remember that there's the health of the baby, because that baby's life is going to be gone, dead, ended," says Seagren.

Abortion rights supporters say the waiting period inserts government between a woman and her doctor. They say opponents of legalized abortion are playing politics by putting the measure in the health and human services bill. Gov. Ventura vetoed the waiting period last year, and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, says the governor has made it clear he'll do it again.

"If you want to hold nursing homes hostages for the MCCL, then you have the votes to do it, and you'll get the bad press for doing that," said Huntley.

The House voted 84-49 to put the exact same language into the House bill that's already included in the Senate bill which passed earlier this week. That means it's extremely unlikely a conference committee would remove the provision. Republican House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Gov. Ventura should reconsider his threat to veto the bill, because recent polls show a majority of Minnesotans support an abortion waiting period.

"And it's the governor that's on the fringe, radical edge of this issue. It's the governor that is putting at jeopardy the chronologically gifted, the most frail individuals in the state of Minnesota - that's the governor's action, it's not the action of the House, it's not the action of the Senate," Sviggum said.

Ventura places the blame on legislators for putting the waiting period in a bill funding services for the elderly and disabled. He renewed his promise to veto the entire bill, and expressed no interest in calling a special session to avoid a shutdown of those services on July 1.

"Why should I? They've been here since January 1. It'll be almost 5 months - there's no excuse whatsoever for a special session, and no excuse whatsoever for them not getting their work done," said Ventura.

With comments like that, many in the health care industry are starting to prepare for the possibility of a government shutdown. Rick Carter, CEO of Careproviders of Minnesota - a nursing home trade association - says there could be a train wreck if there's no bill funding health and human services.

"So the services to all of those folks - including all nursing home clients in this state, including the elderly, the disabled, the mentally ill in state facilities, all of those services are at risk. I assume the worst possible scenerio would be a shutdown of all those institutions," Carter said.

A shutdown could be avoided if legislators could override Ventura's veto. But with only 10 days left in the session, legislative leaders agree there's not enough time.