The Minnesota House on Monday voted to ban state dollars from covering the cost of abortions for low-income women on public medical programs, looking to make gains at a time when abortion opponents nationwide are feeling emboldened.
The prohibition on state funding, and a separate measure to require state licensing for abortion clinics, both sparked intense debate among House lawmakers, and both passed largely on the strength of Republican votes. But they are unlikely to become law, with DFL Gov. Mark Dayton almost certain to veto both measures.
“My constituents and I do not feel we should be paying to end the life of an unborn child,” said Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, who sponsored the measure to bar reimbursements by the state for abortion claims by women on Medical Assistance.
Activists against abortion are riding a national wave of momentum following big electoral gains by Republicans last year, both nationally and at state legislatures.
Notably, Vice President Mike Pence in January became the first vice president to speak at Washington’s annual March for Life event held for decades by abortion opponents — breathing new energy into state and federal efforts to limit the availability to abortion.
The House passed the ban on state funding for abortions by a vote of 77-54, with four DFLers voting in favor and two Republicans voting against it. The abortion clinic licensing bill passed by a vote of 79-53. Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate by one vote may bring the two abortion bills up for a vote in that chamber, a spokeswoman said.
House DFLers criticized the measures as an attack on low-income women who, they said, would otherwise probably need to turn to charity to fund abortions.
“It shouldn’t matter how a woman gets her health care, how she gets her insurance,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester. “It ought to be her own business.”
Franson said that instead of abortions, women should be offered more information on alternatives, including adoption. She criticized the 1995 state Supreme Court ruling, Doe v. Gomez, that said low-income women on Medical Assistance cannot be denied coverage for abortions.
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.
Since the 1995 ruling, 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). 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.
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, according to DHS.
Ahead of the Monday vote, advocates for abortion rights held a rally in the Capitol rotunda.
Andrea Ledger, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota, said in a statement that the bills show “a clear pattern by Minnesota House Republicans of unconstitutionally discriminating against a woman’s right to access health care.”
Monday’s debate on the abortion-related measures was dominated by women on both sides of the political aisle.
“Abortion may be legal in this country, but no taxpayer should be forced to participate with their tax dollars for the taking of this life,” said Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater.
Lohmer took issue with the characterization that supporters of the legislation were hurting low-income women. “It’s ludicrous to say we don’t care about poor women,” Lohmer said. “We know abortion hurts all women.”
Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, sponsored legislation intended to provide more oversight of abortion facilities that perform 10 or more abortions per month. The legislation does not apply to hospitals or outpatient surgical centers.
“Our goal has always been to protect women,” Kiel said. This bill “puts the focus on women for their health and safety.”
Matt Swenson, a Dayton spokesman, in a statement said: “The governor opposes any new law restricting a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions.”
Kiel’s legislation would require abortion facilities to be inspected before being licensed and would require inspections at least once every two years after.
Dayton vetoed a nearly identical measure in 2012.