If a woman is going to take an abortion pill like RU-486, she should do it in the presence of a doctor, the House voted Wednesday.

Representatives were less open, however, to an amendment that would have required a physician presence every time a man pops a Viagra.

The House bill was one of two unrelated bills brought up for debate in the Legislature, both aimed at bringing closer scrutiny to abortion services in Minnesota. The Senate signed off on a bill that would require the state to license clinics that perform more than 10 abortions a month.

“This is just another one of those bills that is just another attempt to stop women from exercising their right to terminate a pregnancy,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, who said the bill would make it more expensive and difficult for women to terminate a pregnancy. “There are fewer deaths from (RU-486) than there are from Viagra or even Tylenol. Certainly having a medical abortion is less dangerous than having a live birth. So this is not about women’s health.”

“This bill is about women’s health,” countered the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. “Just a few statistics about this type of drug: 14 deaths, 612 hospitalizations, 58 ectopic pregnancies. That’s something to be taken seriously.”

Opponents countered that the death rate from medication abortions is approximately one out of every 100,000 women who take RU-486. The death rate for Viagra, by contrast, is approximately 5 for every 100,000.

But abortion is one of those issues that hits a raw nerve, and Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, said comparisons to Tylenol and Viagra trivialize the debate.

“My wife and I lost our first child through a miscarriage early in the pregnancy,” Quam said. “Some of us…believe that each occasion (RU-486 is used), there is a death. That is why I believe this is not a trivial prescription for Tylenol or anything else. That’s where I’m voting on this, is from that conviction and belief.”

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, offered an amendment to the bill that would have put men’s sexual activity under the same scrutiny as women’s. Her amendment would require medical supervision when men take Viagra.
Moreover, Kahn suggested, there should be counseling involved. Perhaps the man’s wife should be consulted about whether she wants him to enhance his sexual performance? Perhaps the prospective grandparents should be brought into the debate as well?

“If you vote yes on this amendment, you understand that men do have some responsibility for what happens in the event that leads to an abortion,” Kahn said.

The House voted no. Overwhelminly. The amendment failed by a vote of 95-28.

“I know it might sound funny to add Viagra and erectile dysfunction drugs. That might be funny to you. I don’t find that funny,” Peppin said.

Liebling didn’t find the debate funny either.

“This is not about women’s health. This is not about health at all,” she said. ““It is legal for women to make that decision at nine weeks, and that’s the point. What you’re trying to do here is infringe on that right.”

While the House debated medication abortions, the Senate was eyeing the facilities that provide surgical abortions.
The Senate bill would require the state to license clinics that provide more than 10 abortions a month. Senate sponsor Claire Robling, R-Jordan, has questioned why Minnesota licenses tattoo parlors and hair-braiding salons, but not abortion clinics.

Opponents point out that Minnesota does not license any clinics that provide outpatient surgery. If the Legislature is going to license one type of facility, critics said, it should license them all.

The scrutiny comes in the wake of a horrifying case at an abortion clinic in Pennsylvania that came to be known as the “House of Horrors.” The doctor and his staff were charged in the death of at least one woman as well as seven babies who were born alive and then killed with scissors.

There have been no such abuses in Minnesota, Robling said, but the state has a legitimate interest in ensuring that the clinics are safe and hygienic.

“I believe that it’s just common sense and practical to have licensing and oversight,” she said. “Members, we just want to shine a little light into those rooms and make sure that these procedures are being handled well.”

Robling estimates that there are seven abortion clinics in the entire state that meet the criteria for licensing.