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What’s really behind the abortion bills in Legislature?

Even if the bills don’t become law, they will be factors in some legislative elections.

Rep. Joyce Peppin

Just when it appeared the state Legislature had more than enough to squabble about, abortion bills added fuel – and campaign fodder – to the fires.

The House passed two bills Wednesday surrounding the use of abortion pills (RU-486). One of the bills would require physicians to be physically present in prescribing use of the pill. A second, an even more restrictive measure, would require a doctor to be present when a woman ingested the pill. Both measures passed 80-48, meaning they had substantial DFL votes.

Meantime, the Senate was passing a bill that would require annual inspections of clinics which perform 10 or more abortions a year. But, opponents say, there are other far more extreme measures buried in the bill. “A trap bill,” is how it’s described by foes.

Additionally, in the Senate measure, clinics where abortions are performed would be required to pay a $3,712 license fee.

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Gov. Mark Dayton has not yet said whether he’ll veto the measures should they pass both bodies. But most DFLers are confident that Dayton, who long has been strongly pro choice, will veto the bills.

Even if the bills don’t get past Dayton’s veto pen, they surely will be factors in some legislative elections.

For example, the newly drawn district maps pair seven-term Republican Rep. Larry Howes of Walker and Rep. John Persell, a two-term DFLer from Bemidji.  Howes is an abortion foe, Persell supports choice in a district that likely leans to the anti-abortion side of the issue.

Safety measure

Proponents of the measures requiring direct contact of physician and the woman using an abortion pill argued that it’s a safety measure.

“This bill is about women’s health,’’ said Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers. She cited statistics claiming that 14 women had died as a result of the pill and 612 had been hospitalized.

But pro-choice supporters argued that this was not about women’s health, rather it was an incremental restriction of a woman’s right to chose.

Linda Slocum, DFL-Richfield, noted that doctors need not be present when a woman is giving birth to a child.

And Persell added: “One of the most dangerous things a woman can do is go through childbirth. That’s way more dangerous than drugs you’re trying to protect them from.’’

Howes’ supporters quickly said that comment will be used in the coming campaign.

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Use of the abortion pill has become increasingly common in the state.

In 2010, the state’s Department of Health reports, pills accounted for about 20 per cent of the 11,550 abortions.

The issue surrounding how the pills should be prescribed apparently arose from the fact that physicians out of Rochester’s Planned Parenthood Clinic are using video conference screens in dealing with patients.

DFLers, especially in the House, attempted to tie this into the national Democratic campaign theme that Republicans are anti-woman.

Viagra amendment

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, called for an amendment that would require a physician to be present each time a man ingested a Viagra. Her amendment failed, 95-28, with Peppin saying she wasn’t amused by Kahn bringing men and erectile dysfunction into the debate.

The Senate bill, requiring licensing and inspections, seems more benign, but there’s much below the surface that could make getting abortions in Minnesota more difficult.

Sen. Claire Robling, R-Jordan, who is retiring at the end of the session, noted that the state already licenses such places as tattoo parlors. Why shouldn’t it license clinics where abortions are performed?

The response from those opposing the measure was that the state already licenses physicians and nurses. It does not, however, license clinics where out-patient surgeries are performed. Abortion clinics should not be treated differently, they said.

“On the surface, this doesn’t seem harmful,’’ said Linnea House of NARAL Prochoice Minnesota.  “But the licensure bill is a trap bill.’’

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Trap bill?

Currently, for example, most abortions in Duluth are performed by physicians from the Twin Cities. Fine print in the bill could make it difficult in the future for those physicians to continue to practice, if there was a change in management of Duluth facilities.

It is complex. It seems small. But such rules, House said, were used to successfully shut down the only abortion clinic in Mississippi.

“It’s simply another way to harass women,’’ said House.

Beyond that, the licensing, the restrictions on prescriptions, all are unnecessary. Under current law, all abortions in Minnesota are reported back to the state. Minnesota has the lowest “complication rate’’ in the nation.

The House and Senate are expected to consider each other’s bills sometime this week.