Two bills back by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion organization, passed a divided Senate committee on Monday.
The bills passed by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee would:
-- Require a new license and inspections for any "clinic, health center or other facility" that performs ten or more abortions per month.
-- Require a doctor's presence when an abortion-inducing drug such as RU-486 is administered, and would prohibit the physician from participating via video conference. Anyone violating the law would be guilty of a felony.
Both bills were passed on mixed voice votes and sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, sponsored the licensing measure. Andrea Rau of MCCL said the bill was in response to criminal charges resulting from a Philadelphia abortion clinic called a "house of horrors" by prosecutors. A spokesman for the state Department of Health said designing rules for licensing these clinics would be "groundbreaking" and expensive; an amendment was added to charge facilities a fee for licensing and inspection.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, sponsored the RU-486 bill, which Jordan Harris of MCCL said was aimed at "webcam abortions" in which the doctor participates via video conference. According to Planned Parenthood, there is only one such site, in Rochester, where the so-called "abortion pill" is administered with a nurse in the room and a physician consulting via videoconference.
Medical experts testified in support of using "telemedicine" and in support of the medication. Supporters of abortion rights said the bill would set up another barrier for women seeking an abortion. But supporters of the bill said the medication was dangerous and should be administered cautiously.
The bill as written states that "any person who knowingly or recklessly performs or attempts to perform an abortion in violation of this section shall be guilty of a felony." It also allows the woman, the father, or a maternal grandparent to sue for actual and punitive damages if an abortion is performed "In knowing or reckless violation" of the law.