A pair of bills that would dramatically limit abortion rights passed their final legislative hurdle on Monday and will soon be headed to the governor's desk.
The GOP-led Minnesota Senate voted 40-26 to eliminate state funding of abortions for poor women and voted 42-24 to prohibit all abortions 20 weeks after conception. The votes split largely along party lines, though several DFLers joined Republicans in support of the restrictions.
The House passed the same set of bills last week with some minor differences that will be resolved before the bills advance to the governor.
If signed into law, the GOP-sponsored measures would represent the most significant changes to Minnesota's abortion laws in decades. But DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has said he would not sign bills violating the "fundamental right" to an abortion.
Taxpayers have subsidized abortions for poor women since the 1995 Doe vs. Gomez Minnesota Supreme Court decision. That funding amounted to $1.6 million in 2009. The court ruled then that a similar law restricting public funding of abortion was unconstitutional.
Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who sponsored the elimination of state funding, said tax dollars should not pay for a practice many find "morally repugnant." With only two of the seven justices who heard Doe vs. Gomez still on the bench, Thompson appeared confident his bill would fare better in a court challenge.
"We are very glad that the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as individual Supreme Courts around the country, have been willing to change their mind," said Thompson. "Otherwise, we would still have segregated schools in this country."
DFLers countered that Republicans should keep their eyes on the budget instead of social issues, with a week left before the end of the legislative session.
"We need to remember, we're wasting our time here today talking about something that has already been decided by the courts," said Sen. Linda Berglin, DFL-Minneapolis.
'More than a dog'
Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion groups maintain fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks, although that claim has been disputed by others.
In 2009, less than 2 percent of all abortions in Minnesota were performed 20 weeks after fertilization. Opponents of the measures say many late-term abortions involve fetal anomalies.
"We are protecting the lives of people who cannot speak for themselves," said sponsor Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas. "And that is an unborn child, who through the abortion process is put through excruciating pain -- nothing that we would do to a dog in this country. And I ask that we look at our future generation as more than a dog."
Critics pointed to a 2005 paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which concluded that "fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester." Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said the legislative findings of the bill were "pseudo-science."
The bill provides an exception for women seeking an abortion after 20 weeks who would otherwise risk death or serious injury. The exception does not include "psychological or emotional conditions." People who perform unlawful abortions after 20 weeks would be guilty of a felony, though the pregnant woman would not be penalized.
The legislation also anticipates a possible legal challenge by establishing a special "litigation account" to pay for the costs of defending the bill in court. The account would be funded by the Legislature and private donations but no specific amount was appropriated.
Eric Roper • 651-222-1210 Twitter: @StribRoper