The state of Minnesota paid $1 million on more than 4,200 abortion procedures in 2015, the most abortion claims paid in the two decades since the state Supreme Court ruled that low-income women on state Medical Assistance can't be denied coverage for abortions.
Since then, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) has worked to overturn the ruling. The group renewed its push this week, posting the latest tally on how much state taxpayer money pays for abortions, based on data from the Department of Human Services.
" 'Free' abortions funded by taxpayers represent a growth area for Planned Parenthood and the state's abortion industry," Scott Fischbach, MCCL's executive director, said in a statement Thursday accompanying the group's public posting of the data. "It is time to end this exploitation of low-income women and their unborn children."
Activists against abortion are newly emboldened after big electoral gains by Republicans last year, both nationally and at state legislatures. In January, Vice President Mike Pence became the first vice president to speak at Washington's annual "March for Life" — breathing new energy into state and federal efforts to limit the availability of abortions.
The federal legislation commonly known as the Hyde amendment bars the use of certain federal funds to pay for abortion, except in cases where pregnancy puts a woman's life at risk, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.
Minnesota is one of only a handful of states where taxpayer dollars pay for abortions, a direct result of the 1995 Doe v. Gomez case. Since then, the state has paid nearly $24 million in Medical-Assistance reimbursements for abortion procedures. The 6 percent increase in reimbursements from 2014 to 2015 coincided with a 12 percent increase in the number of people enrolled in Medical Assistance, the state Department of Human Services said in a statement.
"As a percentage of eligible enrollees, the annual number of abortions has actually decreased," DHS said.
In Minnesota, the GOP-controlled House is expected to vote soon on legislation that would ban state reimbursements for abortion claims filed through Medical Assistance programs. The proposal's fate in the state Senate is less clear, where Republicans have only a one-vote majority.
Dayton would veto
Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed a similar measure in 2011, said Friday he would do so again this year if it reaches his desk.
The roughly $24 million paid in reimbursements over 20 years is a small fraction of the $150 million spent in one year alone on pre- and postnatal services, according to DHS. In 2015, the agency said, Medical Assistance paid for 42 percent of all births in Minnesota.
Jennifer Aulwes, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, defended the right of women on Medical Assistance to have abortion coverage.
"A woman's health and safety should come first, regardless of how she receives her health insurance," Aulwes said. "A ban on abortion coverage for women who rely on state Medicaid for their insurance amounts to discrimination."
Aulwes said access to birth control and sex education has resulted in fewer teen and unintended pregnancies, and she said abortion rates are at historic lows. A recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights think tank in New York, found that the U.S. abortion rate has hit its lowest point since the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.
Research published by the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health estimated there were 926,200 abortions in 2014, or 14.6 abortions for every 1,000 women of reproductive age. That is down 14 percent from three years earlier.
Activists against abortion have questioned the veracity of the study, saying there is no national reporting requirement for abortions performed. The study relied on data provided by abortion providers.
An uphill climb
State Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, is chief sponsor of the House legislation seeking the ban on state funds for abortions. She said her legislation is part of a yearslong effort to match federal law on how public-assistance dollars can be used for abortion services.
"I see, and many of my colleagues and my constituents see that providing funding to end life is inappropriate," Franson said. "We would much rather utilize those resources to help the babies born to have a healthy and productive life."
Franson stressed she is not moving to make abortion illegal. "I'm not ending abortion. What I'm saying is that taxpayers aren't going to subsidize ending a child's life."
State Rep. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, criticized Republicans for advancing the measure in the House. Calling it a settled issue in the state, Murphy said that Franson's legislation would deny "women in Medical Assistance safe and legal abortion." She called the bill unconstitutional.
MCCL acknowledges that its mission to overturn the Doe v. Gomez decision will be an uphill climb. But the group sees passing legislation that defies the ruling as the first step.
Said MCCL spokesman Bill Poehler: "It would set up an opportunity for the court to re-examine that decision."