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Women will always need access to safe, legal abortions

A young man set to graduate from a local seminary recently interviewed me about why I am pro-choice.  He contacted me as a class assignment to talk with someone who held a view opposite of his own. I am so thankful he called me, as it inspired me to send Gov. Mark Dayton another thank-you note. Here’s why:

We made small talk, discovered we both have two children, and our interaction was very pleasant. He then cut straight to the point: Why do you hold a pro-choice position?

My answer was simple: There will always be a need for abortion. It is my job to ensure that it is safe, legal, and accessible for any woman who chooses it.

Always will be unintended pregancies

The lives that we lead are complicated: often wonderful, often terrible, with many twists and turns along the way.  There will always circumstances that result in unintended pregnancies. Sadly, there will always be ectopic pregnancies and fetal anomalies, no matter how wanted or planned the pregnancy is. And, I fear, our society will always have to deal with the risk of rape, and I am loath  to imagine a woman forced through a pregnancy under such circumstances.

I have heard many of these stories from women themselves. When I first started my work in the reproductive rights community, I was startled when people began to tell me their stories. I now find it to be one of the most rewarding parts of my job, and I take their sacred stories to heart. 

These stories remind me that a woman and her physician — not politicians — should make health-care decisions.  As part of my job, I lobby members of the state Legislature. I hear some struggle to pronounce “ectopic pregnancy” or incorrectly repeat the name of the fetal anomaly a woman described in her public testimony, all while assuring her that her baby “would have been fine just fine.” This experience has strengthened my resolve.

Incomplete rhetoric

The legislators speaking at the hearings I referenced are working hard to outlaw aborion, but they are silent on what comes next.  It is almost as if we are to believe that if abortion is outlawed, it will simply cease to exist. 

I told the young student interviewer that women have been here before, that there was a time before safe, legal abortion. The need to access abortion services remains even when it is deemed “illegal.” For example, even though abortion is illegal in Brazil, it has a higher abortion rate than the United States. And, for women in Brazil, the leading cause of maternal death is unsafe abortion. In 2005, IPAS Brasil reported that nearly 100 percent of the 250,000 maternal deaths due to unsafe abortion could have been prevented had care been provided in a safe, legal setting.

I shifted the conversation from Brazil to talk about  closer to home. This year in Minnesota, the state’s largest anti-choice organization worked to pass two bills. One would single out abortion providers for onerous licensing  requirements that other health-care providers don’t have to follow. The other bill would ban the use of telemedicine to provide medical-abortion care. This bill would restrict abortion care for women in rural Minnesota who rely on telemedicine networks to talk to their doctor.

A deceptive strategy

These two bills are part of the “incremental approach” to restricting a woman’s right to choose. They do not explicitly seek to ban abortion outright; their deceptive strategy is to make obtaining an abortion incredibly difficult, and to overburden abortion providers with impossibly strict “licensure” requirements so that in effect there is no access to abortion.

I am grateful that Minnesota has Gov. Mark Dayton, who vetoed these two bills recently and vetoed three other anti-choice bills in 2011. He understands that women’s lives are complicated, politicians aren’t doctors (yet!), and women will always need access to safe and legal abortions.

So here’s my letter to Gov. Dayton in light of his two recent vetoes.

Dear Gov. Dayton,

Thank you for understanding that there will always be a need for safe, legal abortion.


Linnea House

I hope you’ll join me in sending one of your own.

Linnea House is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.


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Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by James Hamilton on 05/18/2012 - 10:18 am.

    But death is the natural consequence

    of sin. Or so some seem to think, though as I recall it isn’t supposed to be ours to judge. Others might simply say that it is the woman’s choice to proceed with an illegal, high risk procedure and wash their hands of the problem. Or try to do so.

    • Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/18/2012 - 12:27 pm.

      “as I recall it isn’t supposed to be ours to judge”

      If it is not ours to judge, then why does a woman have the right the right to hand down a death sentence to a pre-born child?

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/18/2012 - 04:08 pm.


        Once again trying to frame the discussion through terminology, I see.

        Well, remember – there are still plenty of people for whom the proper terminology is “fetus” and who believe it is between a woman and her doctor the choices she makes for her own BODY.

        You don’t have the exclusive right to frame the debate. No matter what words you might want to keep trying to use.

        • Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/20/2012 - 05:25 pm.

          Without terminology, how do we have a discussion?

          Terminology, language, though limited, provide the means for a discussion. How else would we have one?

          For many U.S. abortions, if the physician consultation occurs at all, it is on an operating table.

  2. Submitted by Rev. Kelli Clement on 05/18/2012 - 06:01 pm.

    Thank you Linnea & Gov. Dayton

    What a well-reasoned & sensible article about the challenges that face women & their families from the so-called pro-life movement. The information about Brazil is telling. In contrast, the Netherlands has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, excellent sexuality education, and access to contraception for anyone who wants it. It’s no surprise that they also have one of the lowest rates of abortion in the world. If we truly want fewer abortions, we know how to accomplish that. But then those who believe that women cannot be trusted to make their own reproductive health care decisions would have to give up making political points with women’s lives.

    We are fortunate to have wise women like you, & a wise leader in Gov. Dayton, who frame the issues so well for us. I’m proud to call you colleague!

    Rev. Kelli Clement
    Board Co-Chair
    Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

  3. Submitted by Rev. Kelli Clement on 05/18/2012 - 08:49 pm.

    Thank you!

    Linnea, I am so grateful for this reasonable & clear article about the challenges that women face from so-called pro-life politicians, who do not have the healthcare interests of women at heart. The information from Brazil is telling; the toll of making abortion illegal (or virtually so through lack of access) is more abortion & more deaths of women. In contrast, the Netherlands has some of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, excellent comprehensive sexuality education, widely accessible contraception, and no surprise, one of the lowest rates of abortion in the world. If the goal is truly to have fewer abortions, we know how to do this. But it would require that the people who do not trust women to make the best decisions for herself & her family give up using women’s lives & bodies to make political points.

    Thank you to you & to Gov. Dayton for your work in keeping healthcare for women & their families a priority.

    Rev. Kelli Clement
    Board Co-Chair
    Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
    “Pro-faith, pro-family, pro-choice.”

  4. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/19/2012 - 08:30 am.

    This is why abortion rights are in Jeopardy

    The pro-choice community misses the mark with it’s “we need abortions” argument. Although true, it appears to concede that abortions a necessary evil, and that’s a weak argument that has been losing ground for decades.

    The fight to criminalize abortion is based on two terrifying legal propositions. If Roe v. Wade is ever overturned it will hinge on two legal theories: 1) the constitution does NOT guarantee a right to privacy, and 2) fertilized eggs are people.

    The argument against Roe v. Wade on the privacy front is that it’s a legal fiction created by activist judges. Now think about that? We have judges making law right now that don’t believe the you have a right to privacy from government intrusion. If that concept becomes accepted law it will not only make every woman in the country a second class citizen, it will dramatically alter your relationship with the government. The AG of Illinois once attempted to access every medical record of every teenage girl in the state in order to enforce a new parental notification law, and that was with Roe v. Wade intact! Imagine Roe v. Wade nullified. Pro-fetus activists don’t care as long as it stops abortions.

    The second proposition is that life begins at conception and that life is a person covered by the bill of rights. This doesn’t just establish rights for the “unborn”, by definition it renders elevates the rights of a zygote above those of the woman in whom the zygote resides. In other words it turns every pregnant woman back into an incubator. Under those circumstances, whose rights prevail if one or the others life is in danger? And since women clearly cannot be trusted to protect the rights of their fertilized eggs this would effectively turn every fertilized human egg in the country into a ward of the state. Now think about that.

  5. Submitted by Mary Bochek on 05/19/2012 - 12:13 pm.

    Need for Abortion

    Ms. House uses NARAL’s tradtional arguments to support the “need” for abortion: difficult decisions that should be left to a woman and her physician (Clients of Planned Parenthood – the state’s largest abortion provider – don’t see a physician until they are lying on the table for their abortion and don’t ever engage in a conversation let alone a consultation with said physician); ectopic pregnancies (which are pregnancies that occur outside the uterus and are not viable); and fetal anomolies and rape (would she be willing to limit abortions to only these circumstances?). She refers to maternal mortality rates in Brazil being linked to illegal abortion. In Europe, the countries that rate among the lowest maternal mortality are those with the most highly restrictive abortion laws: Poland and Ireland. A better comparison to Brazil would be Chile, both South American countries that entered the 21st century with high maternal mortality rates. Chile improved public health and now has an enviable maternal mortality rate, which continues to decline, even though abortion is outlawed. “Closer to home”, the U.S. gives abortion mortality statistics on the CDC website (which NARAL and the Guttmacher Institute like to compare favorably to childbirth mortality), but the national coding system prevents coding abortion as a cause of death. When a woman dies as a direct result of an abortion, the cause of death is listed as something else. Curiously, she supports abortion clinics being treated like all other clinics when it comes to licensure requirements, but not when it comes to telemed consultations.
    I didn’t write to Gov. Dayton, but I do pray for him everyday.

    • Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 05/20/2012 - 10:58 pm.

      The reason Planned Parenthood is the largest abortion provider

      is because the anti-choice busybody movement has made an inherently personal and private decision by a woman and her physician into everybody else’s decision so that few physicians are willing to provide this service. It’s become so that medical schools will not teach this medical procedure even though it might be necessary to save a woman’s life.

      The anti-abortion movement has not prevented and never will prevent a single abortion that a woman wants to have. No law will stop a single abortion. The only thing it will do is make it unsafe to the point of death, all in the name of making a theological point about “life”? Which can never be proved only debated to death. Usually not the person trying to make such a ridiculous and irrelevant point.

      I pray for Governor Dayton everyday, as well as all other lawmakers that the Lord will remove the blind ignorance and self-centeredness from such people to simply leave those alone who simply want to be left alone and in in the peace of their own struggle.

  6. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/20/2012 - 10:42 am.

    Bochek botches the facts.

    Most women receive thorough counseling about all of their options before choosing to have an abortion. I didn’t see the physician who performed my Colonoscopy until I was on the table, this is how we do health care in America, it doesn’t mean we’re uninformed or immoral. It is a fact that illegal abortions drastically increase mortality rates wherever they’re conducted, not just in Brazil. European countries all have universal health care which includes contraceptives and extensive sex education. They have lower teenage pregnancy rates, and fewer unplanned pregnancies.

    This pregnancy thing reminds me; the drive to make zygotes people will criminalize any form of contraception that interferes with the implantation or maturation of a fertilized egg. Hence, the “pill” becomes a defacto form of illegal abortion.

    You have to remember, this is not about “life” for the pro-fetus lobby, it’s about controlling irreligious behavior. As far as praying goes, these only people in the world who produce a list when asked: “who would Jesus bomb?”

  7. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/21/2012 - 01:27 pm.

    “Abortion clinic registration bill gets Dayton veto”

    As Joe Kimball reported on April 26, “Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed a bill that would impose licensing requirements on clinics that perform abortions.” The bill enjoyed bipartisan support, passing the House by a 80-47 margin and 43-23 in the Senate.

    Abortion safety is always touted, but access is the primary concern. While oversight might improve safety, it would not improve access; thus the Governor’s veto.

  8. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/22/2012 - 08:08 am.

    The licensing requirement had nothing to do with safety

    The fact that some democrats voted for this requirement doesn’t make it a bipartisan bill. 73% of democrats voted against the licensing requirement while 100% of republicans voted for it. Typically a bipartisan votes carries 50% or more from both parties. There is NO evidence that LEGAL abortions are being done unsafely in MN and all of the medical staff are already licensed to practice medicine. This law would have done nothing to improve safety, it would simply have allowed government intrusion into the process… a “small government” thing don’t ya know. This bill had absolutely no constituency within the public health, health advocacy , or medical professions. The only constituency for this bill were pro-fetus activists who have been trying to get into these clinics for decades so they can intimidate staff and patients. They’re not content with harassing staff and patients outside the clinics, they want to follow you inside.

  9. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/22/2012 - 09:11 am.

    “no constituency within the public health, health advocacy …”

    That is tantamount to saying that no one on Wall Street is in favor of financial oversight. Rest assured that they will do just fine left to themselves.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2012 - 09:01 am.

      Wrong Steve

      Everyone providing medical care in this country is ALREADY subject to oversight, and they all have STATE licenses granted by oversight boards.

      From a medical perspective abortions are not sooooooooo much more dangerous that they- off all the different types of clinics that provide all kinds of procedures, ought to be the only clinics in the state with their very own licensing requirement. You realize hospitals don’t even have to be licensed in this state? But you want to create a special license for clinics that provide abortions because your soooooooo worried about women’s health? Right. A bunch of Republican politicians are soooooo much more qualified to make medical decisions than medical professionals. Right.

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/23/2012 - 10:25 am.


        The legislation passed the House and Senate by wide margins. However, the Governor seems beholden to a constituency that cannot tolerate the smallest impingement upon abortion access.

        So, in your paragraph 1, we learn that, “Everyone providing medical care in this country is ALREADY subject to oversight, and they all have STATE licenses granted by oversight boards.” Yet, in your paragraph 2, we learn that “hospitals don’t even have to be licensed in this state”.

        For anyone interested, here are the rules.

        Minnesota Administrative Rules, Chapter 4640, Hospital Licensing & Operations

  10. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/22/2012 - 09:57 am.

    The National Abortion Federation has it Covered (Up)

    “Dayton also complained that a lack of oversight at abortion clinics was “not an issue” in Minnesota and he noted that other state agencies that oversaw building codes, workplace safety, and physician licensure were adequate. Governor Dayton also cited as an insurer of clinic safety the National Abortion Federation, which, he noted: “sets clinical policy for performing abortions.”

    Governor Dayton’s reliance on the National Abortion Federation may have been a poor idea. In 2011, the organization was caught in a firestorm when it came to light that its representatives were aware of dreadful conditions at a Philadelphia abortion clinic. The director of that clinic, Kermit Gosnell, is now on trial for the murder of one of the women upon whom abortions were performed and the murder of seven newly born babies (not fetuses.)”

    Excerpt from:

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2012 - 09:09 am.

    Wrong again Rose

    The National Abortion Federation had DENIED Gosnell’s membership because his clinic didn’t meet their standards.

  12. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/23/2012 - 10:01 am.

    Using your alternate definition of “wrong” yet again?

    For a link to the Grand Jury’s Report and some photos of Gosnell’s facility:

    According to the report, the National Abortion Federation inspector “just never told anyone in authority about all the horrible, dangerous things she had seen.”

    After you have reviewed the Grand Jury’s Report, tell me that you are happy to have the NAF on the watch here in Minnesota. Were you to see the same things, would you feel no obligation to report it? For a professional abortion facility inspector to witness such things, is not reporting it covering it up?

  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/23/2012 - 10:26 pm.

    Still wrong

    From your “report”:

    “Upon receiving Gosnell’s application, an unnamed NAF evaluator assessed his Philadelphia mill, Women’s Medical Society, on December 14 and 15, 2009. According to the Grand Jury report, “It was the worst abortion clinic she had ever inspected,” and NAF denied Gosnell’s application.”

    Your complaining that NAF didn’t report the clinic to the state. They are not a state or inspection agency and have no requirement, mission, or obligation to report to the state. The inspectors only mission was to determine the clinics eligibility for NAF membership. Maybe you think they should have reported it, but their failure to do so hardly make them complicit in Gosnell’s crimes. Nor does it in any way undermine their credibility. Clearly their inspection reports are accurate and reliable, they correctly denied Gosnell’s application.

  14. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/24/2012 - 06:54 am.

    Can’t answer the question?

    Were you to see the same things, would you feel no obligation to report it?

    “Nor does it in any way undermine their credibility.” So, if the same thing were to occur in your neighborhood, you would expect the NAF to make no report to the authorities? Did you look at the photos or read any of the grand jury report?

    In related news, Gallup published a poll yesterday, “”Pro-Choice” Americans at Record-Low 41%”

  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2012 - 07:59 am.

    The question?

    NAF inspectors do not report to state or federal agencies, I’ve already said that once, so no I wouldn’t expect them do so. What I would do is irrelevant.

    But seriously, this is your argument? NAF failed to report egregious conditions it’s not required to report in a different state; therefore MN should set up special licensing process for clinics that provide abortions?

    Look if you want to talk about improving health care in the US great, but last I checked you people were committed to repealing “Obamacare” because the “market” is superior to Government oversight or mandates. So you want us to believe that suddenly you’ve decided that more regulation and oversight is the big solution, but ONLY with clinics that provide abortions. You want us to believe that the same people who through 35,000 people off of MNcare in order to balance the budget, and have spent the last 40 years cutting every program from Headstart to food stamps, have suddenly decided that women’s health is priority. I wasn’t born yesterday and I’m not buying what you’re selling.

    As for public opinion, I draw your attention to my first comment entitled: “This is why abortion rights are in jeopardy”. Yeah, women better wake and smell the coffee because they’re on the verge of becoming second class citizens. The “we need abortions” argument isn’t cutting it.

    I know some people may take offense at my observation, but I draw your attention to the fact that my “opponent” here has been reduced to an obscure argument about a single malpractice case in a different state and weather or not a private non-profit entity should be reporting to the government. He can’t even touch my argument about privacy and government intrusion.

  16. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/24/2012 - 09:29 am.

    The question, but not the answer …

    It is hardly an obscure argument, as the NAF was brought to the issue of the Governor’s veto by the Governor himself, as stated in one of my comments above.

    Why would the NAF function any different in Minnesota than they functioned in Philly? Applying the reasonable person standard, I would expect an NAF inspector to report atrocities to the authorities. In not answering the question yet again, you answered the question.

    “last I checked you people” What do you mean “you people”?

    I find the tide shift in public sentiment, indicated by the Gallup Poll, to be of great interest.

    When our founding fathers ratified the Constitution in 1787, the issue of slavery was intentionally not addressed. Historians claim that the union would have not come together, had this problem not been kicked down the road. 73 Years later, Lincoln was elected and the first state seceded the union. Slavery supporters believed or pretended to believe that Africans were not human. Though slaves were freed at the war’s end, it took another 100 years to start to get it right, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. I find the parallels between slavery and abortion to be remarkable.

    Both slavery and abortion were justified by believing or pretending to believe that the victims are not human, not people. For abortion, terms like “zygote” are used. The zygote stage in humans lasts about four days. Planned Parenthood has performed millions of abortions, but they haven’t yet gotten a zygote.

    Sadly, people of African descent are disproportionately represented among the population aborted.

    Just as we are rightfully ashamed of our national history of slavery, we may someday be ashamed that we killed millions of our own children.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/24/2012 - 01:13 pm.

      There’s that creative use of terminology again

      Where I’ve seen “zygote” used in this thread, it’s intended to drive home the point that if they had their way, the “life begins at conception” people would put in place legislation that would effectively criminalize sexually active women who are using contraception such as the pill. Lots of us recognize the absurdity of that, and using “zygote” to describe that scenario is appropriate to make THAT particular point. As has been done in this thread.

      So yes – Planned Parentood probably hasn’t gotten a lot of zygotes during abortion procedures. What they HAVE gotten is fetuses. Not children. Fetuses.

      It’s that terminology thing again . . . . . . . . .

      • Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/24/2012 - 03:25 pm.

        Norming on Terms

        Can we agree that a human fetus is a developing human being?

        During weeks nine through twelve the face becomes fully formed, so the fetus at this early point of development has the appearance of a human being.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/24/2012 - 05:25 pm.

          Future tense, present tense

          Developing is not self-sustaining – not an independent life form. No matter how much it visually resembles what it MIGHT someday come to be. Only potential at this point, and the reality of life is that not all potential gets realized.

          And as long as you continue to refer to abortion as “killing children”, you are still manipulating the nomenclature.

  17. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/24/2012 - 11:30 am.


    OK, I meant to say they “threw” 35,000…

  18. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/25/2012 - 08:29 am.

    The self sustaining, independent test

    Not so long ago, I was living with babies of my own. They were anything but independent self sustaining life forms. Immediately following birth, I cut them free from their mother, only to see them latch back on shortly thereafter. Two weeks after birth, my babies were no more independent or self sustaining than they were two weeks before birth. I call them babies; other parents might choose to call them choices, a difference in nomenclature.

    Manipulating the nomenclature. While this column, titled “Women will always need access to safe, legal abortions”, is clearly about abortion, the term “zygote” was put into play. As you agreed above, abortions are not performed on zygotes. Similarly, discussions on abortion often include the issue of rape and incest; a tactic to derail the argument by diverting attention from the large fraction to the small fraction.

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 05/25/2012 - 09:35 am.

      And so the slippery slope begins

      Sorry. But you’re not gonna pull me in with this one any more than you tried to do with the “they already have recognizable faces” line.

      Granted, the closer to term the pregnancy becomes, the greater the possibility of viability in the case of premature removal from the womb. Which is why just because someone is pro-choice doesn’t mean they don’t also want the decision made and acted upon (in the event the choice is to have the abortion) as early in the pregnancy as possible.

      Discussions like this rarely involve clearly delineated black and white issues. But that is no reason to deprive a woman of her right to choice and to control over what happens with her own body.

  19. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/25/2012 - 08:35 am.

    Public opinion

    Of course after ignoring public opinion for 40 years pro-fetus supporters have suddenly decided such opinions are very interesting… now that it’s shifted in some polls.

  20. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/25/2012 - 08:42 am.

    Public opinion part two


    Steve’s making funny with the stats. It’s true that 50% of those polled said they considered themselves “pro-life”, but it appears to be a loaded question that creates confusion over the terms. When asked in the same poll whether or not abortion should be illegal, 77% said they thought it should remain legal. Only 20% want to re-criminalize it. This figure has remarkably stable for over 40 years.

  21. Submitted by Steve Rose on 05/25/2012 - 09:12 am.

    Change in Public Opinion

    While polls provide a snapshot, polling trends offers a view of change over time.

    Abortion has been legal in the U.S. for about 40 years, not very long at all, but long enough that we have something to look back upon and cogitate regarding.

    I’d like to end my participation in this discussion with a quote, which I find to be both wise and appropriate.

    “The things that will destroy us are:
    politics without principle;
    pleasure without conscience;
    wealth without work;
    knowledge without character;
    business without morality;
    science without humanity;
    and worship without sacrifice.”
    — Mahatma Mohandas K. Gandhi

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/26/2012 - 09:40 am.


    Nice Hindu “to-do” list for Republicans.

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