Two bills aimed at limiting access to abortions in Minnesota were on the Senate floor this week. Both bills have previously been determined as unconstitutional. Governor Dayton has vetoed similar legislation in the past and has indicted he will veto the legislation again if it reaches his desk.
With just a few weeks left of the 2017 Legislative Session, the legislature should be focused on finishing their work to balance the state’s budget, not wasting time on divisive social issues that have been ruled unconstitutional and are likely to be vetoed. These bills are just another example of Republicans’ politically-motivated attempts at restricting women’s access to abortion and are designed to shut out low-income women, shut down abortion providers, and endanger the lives of health care workers and women.
The first bill would prohibit state funding for abortions except in cases to save the life of a woman or in cases of rape or incest. State law in Minnesota already prohibits the use of state funding for abortions except in cases of rape or incest, for health or therapeutic reasons, and when a woman’s life is in danger. The bill discriminates against women based on the type of insurance they have and challenges current state law that ensures women have access to reproductive health care regardless of their financial situation. Additionally, based on a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, Doe v. Gomez, the bill is unconstitutional. In that case, the court established a broad right to privacy and required the state to pay for therapeutic abortion. Similar legislation has been ruled unconstitutional in other states and has cost millions of dollars in legal fees. Last year, Wisconsin paid $1.6 million in challengers’ legal fees when a district court ruled the law was an undue burden on women seeking abortion.
The second bill would subject abortion clinics to the licensure standards of the Outpatient Surgical Center Act, which essentially classifies them as small hospitals and is designed to shut down abortion providers in Minnesota. The evidence of unsafe practices within these clinics to warrant this type of heightened licensure is not present in the clinics that operate in Minnesota. The most recent report on induced abortions from the Minnesota Department of Health showed a complication rate of less than .01%. A similar law in Texas was ruled unconstitutional in the 2016 U.S. Supreme Court case Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. The court’s 5-3 decision ruled that anti-abortion restrictions must be examined for the burdens they impose on women, not just their purported benefits.
There are much more important issues the legislature should be working in the last few weeks of the session rather than divisive social agenda bills. At the start of session, Republicans in the legislature said they do not intend to focus on social agenda legislation. These divisive abortion bills have already received more public hearing time than any legislation aimed at fixing the crisis Minnesota is facing in the health insurance market. It’s time for the divisive social issues to take a back seat to the legislature getting their work done and done on time. (SF 704, SF 702)