Minn. Legislators Inject Abortion Politics Into Medical Assistance Program That Does Not Fund Abortions

Robin Marty

An amendment to strip taxpayer funding for abortions nearly passes in Minnesota, even though the fund in question doesn't pay for abortions at all.

In an unexpected move, anti-choice legislators in Minnesota attempted to inject a ban on taxpayer-funded abortions during a vote to extend the General Assistance Medical Care Fund (GAMC) recently gutted by Governor Tim Pawlenty. Although the amendment did not pass, anti-choice activists are now using the vote to impose further restrictions on funding abortions in the state.

Only one problem: the program does not fund abortions.

GAMC–which is used to provide health care to adults in Minnesota who fall below the poverty line and who do not have dependent children–is a safety-net fund for the absolute poorest and sickest Minnesotans. Governor Pawlenty unilaterally cut the program, which will now end on April 1st. Although Pawlenty suggested that some of those reliant on GAMC would be moved to MinnesotaCare, a Minnesota-based Medicare program, he later stated in his recent State of the State speech that he would limit enrollment in MinnesotaCare to single people earning 75 percent of the federal poverty level ($8200 per year).

Democratic Farm Labor (DFL) party legislators led a charge to put funds back into GAMC, and with the help of numerous Republicans a bill to reallocate funds was passed overwhelmingly in the House by a vote of 125 to 9. 

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But the vote wasn’t without controversy.  With little warning, anti-choice DFL Representative Patti Fritz offered an amendment to the bill requiring that abortion coverage be stripped from GAMC in order to stop "taxpayer-funded abortions."  

But GAMC has never covered abortions. "There are no pregnant women on GAMC," said Stacey Burns of the Hersey Abortion Assistance Fund.  "If a woman becomes pregnant [and is seeking prenatal or maternity care] she would apply for MinnesotaCare."

Of course, this hasn’t stopped anti-choice activists from either mixing the two insurance plans, or lying altogether.  When introducing her amendment, Rep. Fritz claimed GAMC had paid for 60 abortions recently, despite assurances that there were no pregnant women covered by the fund.  With the help of 20 anti-choice DFL legislators, the amendment nearly succeeded.  With a 67-67 vote, the anti-choice amendment was only one vote shy of passing.

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) used the vote as a chance to further perpetuate confusion about the two insurance funds in a press release, citing the attempt to stop non-existent tax-payer funded abortions in GAMC, then rolling GAMC funding in with MinnesotaCare coverage.

"Taxpayers have been forced to fund abortion procedures done under both
GAMC and Medical Assistance (MA), the Minnesota Medicaid program," claimed MCCL. 

"In
1993, taxpayers paid about $7,000 for 23 abortions performed in cases
of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother was in danger. In
2007, taxpayers funded 3,914 abortions at a cost of $1.58 million,
according to the Minnesota Department of Human Services; the total
since 1994 is 47,115 abortions and $14.1 million."

Of the dollar totals mentioned, they fail to note that none of it came from GAMC, and that the amendment itself would have done nothing to eliminate abortions. 

You simply can’t cut off funds for something that does not exist.

MCCL and anti-choice legislators weren’t the only ones to push for removal of "taxpayer-funded abortions" from GAMC.  In a move very reminiscent of the national health care debate, local Catholic Bishops also began advocating for the return of GAMC funds, noting that the fund is imperative to assisting those in Minnesota with the greatest needs. 

"Our faith calls us to protect and support all human life, to cultivate the whole human person, to promote the common good, to work for justice, and to place first the needs of our brothers and sisters who are poor and vulnerable, and to care for the sick," several leading Bishops admonished in a letter to legislators.

Then the Bishops, too, asked that non-existent abortion coverage be stripped from the bill to restore funding to GAMC, the program that does not fund abortions.

Although the bill was passed with large majorities in both the House and Senate, it was then vetoed by Gov. Pawlenty.

Republicans who previously voted for the bill now have vowed to vote to uphold the governor’s veto.

Roundups Politics

Trump Taps Extremists, Anti-Choice Advocates in Effort to Woo Evangelicals

Ally Boguhn

Representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to its shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the organization's president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance at a question-and-answer event on Tuesday.

Making a play to win over the evangelical community, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump met with more than 1,000 faith and anti-choice leaders on Tuesday for a question-and-answer event in New York City and launched an “evangelical advisory board” to weigh in on how he should approach key issues for the voting bloc.

The meeting was meant to be “a guided discussion between Trump and diverse conservative Christian leaders to better understand him as a person, his position on important issues and his vision for America’s future,” according to a press release from the event’s organizers. As Rewire previously reported, numerous anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ leaders—many of them extremists—were slated to attend.

Though the event was closed to the media, Trump reportedly promised to lift a ban on tax-exempt organizations from politicking and discussed his commitment to defending religious liberties. Trump’s pitch to conservatives also included a resolution that upon his election, “the first thing we will do is support Supreme Court justices who are talented men and women, and pro-life,” according to a press release from United in Purpose, which helped organize the event.

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-choice Susan B. Anthony List, told the New York Times that the business mogul also reiterated promises to defund Planned Parenthood and to pass the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20-week abortion ban based on the medically unsupported claim that a fetus feels pain at that point in a pregnancy.

In a post to its website, representatives from radical anti-abortion group Operation Rescue praised Trump’s commitment to their shared values during the event. “I’m very impressed that Mr. Trump would sit with conservative leaders for multiple questions, and then give direct answers,” said the group’s president, Troy Newman, who was in attendance. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever happened.” The post went on to note that Trump had also said he would appoint anti-choice justices to federal courts, and repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Just after the event, Trump’s campaign announced the formation of an evangelical advisory board. The group was “convened to provide advisory support to Mr. Trump on those issues important to Evangelicals and other people of faith in America,” according to a press release from the campaign. Though members of the board, which will lead Trump’s “much larger Faith and Cultural Advisory Committee to be announced later this month,” were not asked to endorse Trump, the campaign went on to note that “the formation of the board represents Donald J. Trump’s endorsement of those diverse issues important to Evangelicals and other Christians, and his desire to have access to the wise counsel of such leaders as needed.”

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Much like the group that met with Trump on Tuesday, the presumptive Republican nominee’s advisory board roster reads like a who’s-who of conservatives with radical opposition to abortion and LGBTQ equality. Here are some of the group’s most notable members:

Michele Bachmann

Though former Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that “women don’t need anyone to tell them what to do on health care” while arguing against the ACA during a 2012 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, her views on the government’s role in restricting reproductive health and rights don’t square away with that position.

During a December 2011 “tele-town hall” event hosted by anti-choice organization Personhood USA, Bachmann reportedly falsely referred to emergency contraception as “abortion pills” and joined other Republican then-presidential candidates to advocate for making abortion illegal, even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. During the event, Bachmann touted her support of the anti-choice group’s “personhood pledge,” which required presidential candidates to agree that:

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.

Such a policy, if enacted by lawmakers, could outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception. A source from Personhood USA told the Huffington Post that Bachmann “signed the pledge and returned it within twenty minutes, which was an extraordinarily short amount of time.”

Bachmann has also claimed that God told her to introduce a measure to block marriage equality in her home state, that being an LGBTQ person is “ part of Satan,” and that same-sex marriage is a “radical experiment that will have “profound consequences.”

Mark Burns

Televangelist Mark Burns has been an ardent supporter of Trump, even appearing on behalf of the presidential candidate at February’s Faith and Family Forum, hosted by the conservative Palmetto Family Council, to deliver an anti-abortion speech.

In March, Burns also claimed that he supported Donald Trump because Democrats like Hillary Clinton supported Black “genocide” (a frequently invoked conservative myth) during an appearance on the fringe-conspiracy program, the Alex Jones show. “That’s really one of my major platforms behind Donald Trump,” said Burns, according to the Daily Beast. “He loves babies. Donald Trump is a pro-baby candidate, and it saddens me how we as African Americans are rallying behind … a party that is okay with the genocide of Black people through abortion.”

Burns’ support of Trump extended to the candidate’s suggestion that if abortion was made illegal, those who have abortions should be punished—an issue on which Trump has repeatedly shifted stances. “If the state made it illegal and said the premature death of an unborn child constituted murder, anyone connected to that crime should be held liable,” Burns told the Wall Street Journal in April. “If you break the law there should be punishment.”

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland founded Kenneth Copeland Ministries (KCM), which, according to its mission statement, exists to “teach Christians worldwide who they are in Christ Jesus and how to live a victorious life in their covenant rights and privileges.” Outlining their opposition to abortion in a post this month on the organization’s website, the couple wrote that abortion is wrong even in cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. “As the author of life, God considers an unborn child to be an eternal being from the moment of its conception,” explained the post. “To deliberately destroy that life before birth would be as much premeditated murder as taking the life of any other innocent person.”

The article went on to say that though it may “seem more difficult in cases such as those involving rape or incest” not to choose abortion, “God has a plan for the unborn child,” falsely claiming that the threat of life endangerment has “been almost completely alleviated through modern medicine.”

The ministries’ website also features Pregnancy Options Centre, a crisis pregnancy center (CPC) in Vancouver, Canada, that receives “financial and spiritual support” from KCM and “its Partners.” The vast majority of CPCs  regularly lie to women in order to persuade them not to have an abortion.

Kenneth Copeland, in a June 2013 sermon, tied pedophilia to the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, going on to falsely claim that the ruling did not actually legalize abortion and that the decision was “the seed to murder our seed.” Copeland blamed legal abortion for the country’s economic woes, reasoning that there are “several million taxpayers that are not alive.”

Copeland, a televangelist, originally supported former Republican presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz (TX) in the 2016 Republican primary, claiming that the candidate had been “called and appointed” by God to be the next president. His ministry has previously faced scrutiny about its tax-exempt status under an investigation led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) into six ministries “whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles.” This investigation concluded in 2011, according to the New York Times.

James Dobson

James Dobson, founder and chairman emeritus of Focus on the Family (FoF), previously supported Cruz in the Republican primary, releasing an ad for the campaign in February praising Cruz for defending “the sanctity of human life and traditional marriage.” As Rewire previously reported, both Dobson and his organization hold numerous extreme views:

Dobson’s FoF has spent millions promoting its anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ extremism, even dropping an estimated $2.5 million in 2010 to fund an anti-choice Super Bowl ad featuring conservative football player Tim Tebow. Dobson also founded the … Family Research Council, now headed by Tony Perkins.

Dobson’s own personal rhetoric is just as extreme as the causes his organization pushes. As extensively documented by Right Wing Watch,

Dobson has:

Robert Jeffress

A Fox News contributor and senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, Jeffress once suggested that the 9/11 attacks took place because of legal abortion. “All you have to do is look in history to see what God does with a nation that sanctions the killing of its own children,” said Jeffress at Liberty University’s March 2015 convocation, according to Right Wing Watch. “God will not allow sin to go unpunished and he certainly won’t allow the sacrifice of children to go unpunished.”

Jeffress spoke about the importance of electing Trump during a campaign rally in February, citing Democrats’ positions on abortion rights and Trump’s belief “in protecting the unborn.” He went on to claim that if Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Hillary Clinton were elected, “there is no doubt you’re going to have the most pro-abortion president in history.”

After Trump claimed women who have abortions should be punished should it become illegal, Jeffres rushed to defend the Republican candidate from bipartisan criticism, tweeting: “Conservatives’ outrage over @realDonaldTrump abortion comments hypocritical. Maybe they don’t really believe abortion is murder.”

As documented by Media Matters, Jeffress has frequently spoken out against those of other religions and denominations, claiming that Islam is “evil” and Catholicism is “what Satan does with counterfeit religion.” The pastor has also demonstrated extreme opposition to LGBTQ equality, even claiming that same-sex marriage is a sign of the apocalypse.

Richard Land

Richard Land, now president of the Southern Evangelical Seminary, was named one of Time Magazine‘s “25 Most Influential Evangelicals in America” in 2005 for his close ties with the Republican party. While George W. Bush was president, Land participated in the administration’s “weekly teleconference with other Christian conservatives, to plot strategy on such issues as gay marriage and abortion.” Bush also appointed Land to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in 2002.

According to a 2002 article from the Associated Press, during his early academic career in Texas, “Land earned a reputation as a leader among abortion opponents and in 1987 became an administrative assistant to then-Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who fought for laws to restrict a woman’s right to an abortion” in the state.

Land had previously expressed “dismay” that some evangelicals were supporting Trump, claiming in October that he “take[s] that [support] as a failure on our part to adequately disciple our people.”

News Contraception

Colorado Contraception Program Overcomes GOP Opposition

Jason Salzman

In a reversal from last year, Colorado lawmakers on Thursday approved a state budget that includes funds for a program credited with reducing the teen birth rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent.

Funding has survived for a successful contraception program in Colorado after a group of Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in supporting the initiative.

A recorded vote on the amendment Thursday confirmed that four Republicans joined Democrats in killing the anti-LARC amendment, the Denver Post reported.

Both pro- and anti-choice advocates knew that Republicans in Colorado’s senate would offer an amendment this week to eliminate funds from a budget bill for a state program credited with reducing the teen birth rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent.

The question remained: Would Republicans, who have a one-seat majority in the state senate, hold ranks, as they did last year, and leave the program unfunded?

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The answer came Wednesday in the form of a senate voice vote against the amendment, offered by state Sens. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) and Tim Neville (R-Littleton), that would have eliminated $2.5 million for Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative. The program provides long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), to low-income people.

About 30,000 long-lasting contraceptive implants were distributed during a five-year pilot program under the state’s Family Planning Initiative. Participating clinics in 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties serve 95 percent of the state’s population.

During a brief debate on the senate floor Wednesday, Neville expressed his concern about the “use of widespread and temporary sterilization products on women and girls in Colorado.” Such “temporary sterilization,” he said, does “nothing to prevent the spread of STDs.”

“There is nothing to suggest that the psychological and medical risks and costs associated with the increased sexual activity will be managed or addressed by these funds or this legislation,” Neville said.

LARC usage does not result in increased sexual activity, studies show.

Some state GOP lawmakers have said they stood against funding for LARCs because they considered that kind of contraception to be abortion.

“I have no moral problem with contraceptives. The problem is when you kill the child,” state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) told the Associated Press in November 2014.

Medical professionals have repeatedly shown that Lundberg’s assertion about LARCs is medically inaccurate.

Woods, the other sponsor of the amendment, tried to cut LARC funding despite warnings that her anti-choice positions could damage her re-election efforts in a swing district vital to GOP hopes of retaining control of the state senate.

Pro-choice advocates praised the vote to retain LARC money in the budget bill, saying it will offer Coloradans control of their fertility.

“Self-determination and the ability to be a parent when we are ready should not be a privilege,” said Cristina Aguilar, director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), in an email to Rewire. “All women should be able to make decisions about their bodies and their futures.”

Colorado’s house last week rejected a similar amendment, so now the state budget bill will go to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who is expected to sign it.

House Republicans voiced similar opposition to the LARC funds.

Some opposed the program based on the incorrect argument that IUDs cause abortions.

“I would be fine with family planning,” said Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, as quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I would be fine with some kinds of birth control, but when the taxpayers are funding post-conception abortion pills, that crosses the line.”

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock), argued that “birth control is already covered by the Affordable Care Act,” and thus Colorado’s initiative is not needed—even though the program’s training and funds for some types of birth control are not covered by the national health-care law.

Pro-choice advocates said the LARC program should serve as a model for other states.

“Here in Colorado, we know what’s proven to work on women’s health care—access to low-cost, long acting reversible contraception and keeping medical decisions between women and their doctors,” said Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in an email to Rewire. “Funding the LARC program is one of the smartest things we can do for both individual women and public policy as a whole. We hope other states will follow Colorado’s lead.”

After Colorado Republicans rejected $5 million for the LARC program last year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment undertook its own fundraising effort, raising enough money to keep the program going at a reduced level.

The original six-year LARC pilot program was undertaken in Colorado with support from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.