Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a bill Thursday that would have required licensing of abortion clinics. He's also expected to veto another bill that would require a doctor to be present whenever an abortion pill is prescribed or swallowed.
The abortion pill measure won final approval from the Republican-led Minnesota House on Thursday, just hours before Dayton rejected the licensure bill. Dayton said in a statement that the proposed law would have forced "inappropriate and unworkable" new requirements on the few facilities that offer abortions. The bill's language, he said, was so vague -- it said clinics could be monitored for "conduct or practices detrimental to the welfare of the patient" -- that complaints could have been filed for almost any reason.
Abortion and contraception have resurfaced as divisive political issues both nationwide and in Minnesota this year, with Republicans and Democrats fighting battles many thought were settled.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, said that "there should be some light shining in these places." Robling estimated that she is just two votes shy of the 45 needed in the Senate to override Dayton's veto. "I remember the argument [when abortion was legalized], that we needed to bring abortion out of the back alleys to protect women's health. I still don't feel we're protecting women's health," she said.
The bill would have required Minnesota to license any facility that provides 10 or more abortions a month. The six abortion clinics in Minnesota that would have been affected by the bill, the governor wrote, are among 1,250 outpatient clinics statewide that operate without licenses, but with supervision.
Doctors and nurses are licensed, and the abortion clinics are inspected by the National Abortion Federation.
"The legislation targets only facilities which provide abortions," Dayton wrote. "If regulation of clinics were the concern, the bill should have required licensure of all clinics, not just a select few. If the Legislature wants to create a new regulatory scheme for health care clinics, then all clinics should be treated equally. No clinic or procedure should be the focus of special and unique regulatory requirements."
In a sign of the passion behind the abortion bills, both made it through the end-of-session crush while issues such as the multimillion-dollar bonding bill, tax reforms and a new Vikings stadium are still stuck in legislative mud.
A doctor's presence
The bill passed by the House 76-47 on Thursday targets chemically induced abortions.
It would require a doctor to be physically present whenever a woman is prescribed an abortion pill and again when she ingests the pill.
That set off more debate in the House, with female lawmakers taking center stage on both sides.
"This is just another bill that is attempting to curtail women's rights to make their own choices about their own reproductive health," said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester.
"This bill is about women's health," said House sponsor Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. "Several women have died or been hospitalized. This does not do anything to make the drug illegal or the procedure illegal -- it just simply says a doctor has to be present if the drug is to be administered. I don't know how that could be in any way a negative, because it is just simply looking out for the health of the mother."
Others argued in earlier debates that the pill requires hours to take effect, making a doctor's presence when it is swallowed pointless.
The final version of the bill had been amended to remove earlier criminal penalties the House had proposed.
Debate was relatively brief compared with earlier floor sessions, but opponents repeated their objections to the bill, which they say is targeted more at frustrating access to abortion services than women's health.
Jennifer Brooks • 651-925-5049