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. 

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.

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