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St. Paul, Minn. — The Woman's Right to Know Act, passed last session by lawmakers, requires the Health Department to, among other things, post information on fetal gestation, the abortion procedure, and its health risks to women.
To comply with the new law, last fall the Health Department published information on its Web site saying that findings from some studies suggest an increased risk of breast cancer among women who had abortions. The site also discusses a timeframe for when fetal pain occurs.
State public health workers and the Minnesota Medical Association fervently opposed the language on breast cancer and fetal pain, and charged Gov. Tim Pawlenty with politicizing the Health Department. The MMA and others argued that the information was not based on current science, and challenged Pawlenty to amend the language.
Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach met with MMA representatives to hear their concerns.
"We've added additional information on the two areas that have been a bit of the flashpoints on the Woman's Right to Know Web site," says says.
Mandernach says the site will now include an Internet link to a March 2003 study by the National Cancer Institute, which finds no link between abortion and breast cancer. The Web site will also provide a link to a minority report disagreeing with the Cancer Institute study.
Minnesota Medical Association officials say they're pleased with the additional language and will not push for further changes.
MMA President Paul Matson says the organization worked with the commissioner to create a balanced perspective based on current scientific information, including the recent study from the National Cancer Institute.
"We're happy that they were willing to look at that, and include that information in their expanded Woman's Right to Know Web site," says Matson. "The important factor for us is that the Minnesota Department of Health is willing to look at this information as we provided it to them."
Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life -- which advocates against legalized abortion -- helped craft the Woman's Right to Know legislation and consulted with the Health Department on its Web site. MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach says he's extremely disappointed with the additional language.
"The Minnesota Medical Association, which has really been hijacked by 12 pro-abortion doctors -- it represents the 12 of them -- really went around to the governor and said, 'We don't like this ... language, you better change it.' And the Governor caved in, and went ahead and changed it for them," Fishbach says.
The MMA's Matson says the organization has never taken a position on abortion. Matson says his organization's concerns with the Web site language have always been about providing current scientific information.
Commissioner Mandernach says the decision to post the additional language is not about politics, but she acknowledges the weight of the MMA's opinion.
"It's the provider community that has to implement what we do. And so the reality is as we listen to their concerns, I believe we need to be very sensitive to those concerns because that is the relationship, and that is the point at where the implementation occurs," Mandernach says.
At least one Republican lawmaker and self described "pro-life voter," was raising concerns about the breast cancer language. Before the changes were announced, Sen. Steve Dille, R-Dassel, said he would propose taking the breast cancer language out altogether.
Another change to the Health department's Web site includes language on fetal pain. Instead of the current statement saying fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks, the literature will add that some experts say pain is felt later in gestational development, and that the issue may need further study.