Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday vetoed a bill that would have cut off state money for abortions and another to require that abortion clinics be licensed, rejecting two strong priorities for Republicans who control the Legislature.

The vetoes, which had been expected, are the latest flash point in a long-running debate over whether women on Minnesota's Medical Assistance program should have abortion coverage, a right established by a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling.

"All women deserve to be healthy and safe," Dayton wrote in his veto letter. "I will not approve a bill that infringes upon Minnesotans' constitutionally protected rights, discriminates against women because of their socioeconomic status, or does not protect their health and safety."

On the effort to license abortion clinics, Dayton was not convinced by arguments by abortion opponents that the bill would have made abortions safer.

"Health care research, findings, and conclusions are best left to experts, who are trained to make medical, not political, decisions, and who are in the best position to protect a woman's health," the governor said. "Our place is not between a woman and her doctor."

Dayton's vetoes drew praise from groups that support legal abortion and swift criticism from opponents of abortion.

Andrea Rau, legislative director for the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said in a statement that Dayton "has demonstrated profound disrespect for women and taxpayers."

"Once again Gov. Dayton has bowed to a handful of abortion industry elites rather than thoughtfully considering the content of anti-abortion bills," she said.

Sarah Stoesz, the president of Minnesota's Planned Parenthood Chapter said, "Minnesota women are deeply grateful that Gov. Dayton is once again using his veto pen to protect a woman's constitutionally protected right to abortion.

"A woman should be able to make decisions about her pregnancy with her doctor, based on what's best for her health, not on how she receives her health insurance," she said. "Nor should she experience barriers to care based on laws that impose medically unnecessary restrictions for abortion providers."

Minnesota is one of about a dozen states where taxpayer dollars pay for abortions. 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.

By voting to bar public funds, Republican lawmakers expected to draw a legal challenge they hoped could lead to the undoing of the 1995 state Supreme Court ruling.

Since that ruling 27 years ago, the state has paid roughly $24 million in reimbursements for abortions, a fraction of the $150 million spent in one year alone on pre- and postnatal services, according to the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044