Are Anti-Choice Legislators Gunning For Minnesota’s Version of Roe?

Robin Marty

Right now, women in Minnesota are protected by state law if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. But anti-choice legislators are aiming to change that.

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011 is the 38th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. In the past few years, a woman’s right to choose whether and when to bear a child has become increasingly threatened by federal and state laws, clinic harassment, and provider violence. Because the “right to choose” depends on many factors, Rewire is publishing a series of articles on abortion providers, state laws, and other threats to women’s fundamental rights under Roe.

As we once more celebrate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case which upheld the constitutional right for every woman to control whether or not she has a child, women’s reproductive rights seem more in jeopardy than ever before.  Multiple anti-abortion restrictions have passed in the states within just the last year, each of them attempting to chip away at precedent by inhibiting a woman’s ability to easily access early abortion, adding to the costs of the procedure, even changing the timeline for legal access from viability of the fetus to an arbitrary point a few weeks earlier.

Each new regulation has been passed with two purposes – to block a woman’s ability to obtain a legal procedure in a reasonable and physically safe way, and to try and find a court case that can be used to challenge the settled law of the land.

For those of us in Minnesota, we have always been able to breathe a little easier when it comes to the legal right to an abortion.  In Minnesota, we have our own precedent-setting court case – Doe v. Gomez – which serves as the benchmark of abortion law. 

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Doe v. Gomez established a woman’s right to chose in 1995 when the state supreme court ruled that the state cannot selectively cover pregnancy-related services by funding prenatal care and childbirth expenses while refusing to cover abortion services. Such support would be an implicit denial of a woman’s right to chose to carry a child to term or not.  Not funding abortion services, for example, then burdens low-income women with “undue financial constraints,” eliminating choice simply based on economic status.

Because of the ruling, Minnesota has been able to use Medicaid funds to allow low-income women to obtain the procedure, despite the Hyde Amendment’s federal rules regarding funding abortion with public money.  This aspect of the ruling has infuriated local social conservatives for years, causing local anti-choice groups like Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) to introduce the “Taxpayer Protection Act” nearly every year since the case was settled.  Each year the bill has been struck down by pro-choice members of the House and Senate, who held a majority of seats in the legislature.

Now, they don’t.

For the first time in recent history, both the Minnesota House and Senate have anti-choice majorities.  The current president of the Senate, Republican Senator Michelle Fischbach, is the wife of Scott Fischbach, the executive director for MCCL. The atmosphere in Minnesota has never been more hostile to women’s rights.

There are two ways that Doe v. Gomez could be overturned: by legislation or by amendment.  Should anti-choice legislators decide to push for an “end taxpayer-funded abortions” bill this session, they likely have more than enough votes to pass it.  Although newly elected Governor Mark Dayton, a pro-choice Democrat, would likely veto the bill, there may not be enough legislators left to block a veto override.  The bill, a direct challenge to Doe, would then be reviewed by the courts, which has shifted far to the right after eight years of appointments by two-term Governor Tim Pawlenty, a staunch Republican.

Megan Peterson, Deputy Director of National Network of Abortion Funds, would not be surprised to see a bill proposed and passed through the House and Senate this year.

“There is a ripe environment for action in this state to try and get rid of Doe v. Gomez due to the discussion nationally around abortion coverage in health care reform.  Although an all-out ban on abortion coverage in health care reform was avoided to secure passage, Congress included the Nelson Amendment which will still create significant barriers to abortion coverage, and President Obama reaffirmed the Hyde Amendment which bans federal funding of abortion care through Medicaid.”

“We have seen MCCL and anti-abortion activists repeatedly put forward the Taxpayer Protection Act, and each year they pick up a few more votes,” she added.  “Last year it was the closest it’s ever been.  The debate over health care reform has just added more fuel.”

Overturning Doe v. Gomez is more than just a matter of funding for abortion, however.  The ruling provides a constitutional right in Minnesota for all women to have access to an abortion.  Should one of myriad court challenges ever be successful at taking down Roe v. Wade, Minnesota has its own version to assure the procedure is not outlawed in the state.  If Doe is overturned first, women will be cut off all together.

If we lose Doe v. Gomez, that means that if Roe v. Wade is lost, we could then lose abortion rights across the state.  And that is the real plan of anti-abortion activists, wrapped in the guise of “protecting taxpayers” who don’t support reproductive rights.

News Politics

Anti-Choice Democrats: ‘Open The Big Tent’ for Us

Christine Grimaldi & Ally Boguhn

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America gathered Wednesday in Philadelphia during the party’s convention to honor Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) for his anti-choice viewpoints, and to strategize ways to incorporate their policies into the party.

The group attributed Democratic losses at the state and federal level to the party’s increasing embrace of pro-choice politics. The best way for Democrats to reclaim seats in state houses, governors’ offices, and the U.S. Congress, they charged, is to “open the big tent” to candidates who oppose legal abortion care.

“Make room for pro-life Democrats and invite pro-life, progressive independents back to the party to focus on the right to parent and ways to help women in crisis or unplanned pregnancies have more choices than abortion,” the group said in a report unveiled to allies at the event, including Democratic National Convention (DNC) delegates and the press.

Democrats for Life of America members repeatedly attempted to distance themselves from Republicans, reiterating their support for policies such as Medicaid expansion and paid maternity leave, which they believe could convince people to carry their pregnancies to term.

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Their strategy, however, could have been lifted directly from conservatives’ anti-choice playbook.

The group relies, in part, on data from Marist, a group associated with anti-choice polling, to suggest that many in the party side with them on abortion rights. Executive Director Kristen Day could not explain to Rewire why the group supports a 20-week abortion ban, while Janet Robert, president of the group’s board of directors, trotted out scientifically false claims about fetal pain

Day told Rewire that she is working with pro-choice Democrats, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, both from New York, on paid maternity leave. Day said she met with DeLauro the day before the group’s event.

Day identifies with Democrats despite a platform that for the first time embraces the repeal of restrictions for federal funding of abortion care. 

“Those are my people,” she said.

Day claimed to have been “kicked out of the pro-life movement” for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She said Democrats for Life of America is “not opposed to contraception,” though the group filed an amicus brief in U.S. Supreme Court cases on contraception. 

Democrats for Life of America says it has important allies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Joe Manchin (WV), and Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL), along with former Rep. Bart Stupak (MI), serve on the group’s board of advisors, according to literature distributed at the convention.

Another alleged ally, Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), came up during Edwards’ speech. Edwards said he had discussed the award, named for Casey’s father, former Pennsylvania Gov. Robert P. Casey, the defendant in the landmark Supreme Court decision, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which opened up a flood of state-level abortions restrictions as long as those anti-choice policies did not represent an “undue burden.”

“Last night I happened to have the opportunity to speak to Sen. Bob Casey, and I told him … I was in Philadelphia, receiving this award today named after his father,” Edwards said.

The Louisiana governor added that though it may not seem it, there are many more anti-choice Democrats like the two of them who aren’t comfortable coming forward about their views.

“I’m telling you there are many more people out there like us than you might imagine,” Edwards said. “But sometimes it’s easier for those folks who feel like we do on these issues to remain silent because they’re not going to  be questioned, and they’re not going to be receiving any criticism.”

During his speech, Edwards touted the way he has put his views as an anti-choice Democrat into practice in his home state. “I am a proud Democrat, and I am also very proudly pro-life,” Edwards told the small gathering.

Citing his support for Medicaid expansion in Louisiana—which went into effect July 1—Edwards claimed he had run on an otherwise “progressive” platform except for when it came to abortion rights, adding that his policies demonstrate that “there is a difference between being anti-abortion and being pro-life.”

Edwards later made clear that he was disappointed with news that Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock, whose organization works to elect pro-choice women to office, was being considered to fill the position of party chair in light of Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s resignation.

“It wouldn’t” help elect anti-choice politicians to office, said Edwards when asked about it by a reporter. “I don’t want to be overly critical, I don’t know the person, I just know that the signal that would send to the country—and to Democrats such as myself—would just be another step in the opposite direction of being a big tent party [on abortion].” 

Edwards made no secret of his anti-choice viewpoints during his run for governor in 2015. While on the campaign trail, he released a 30-second ad highlighting his wife’s decision not to terminate her pregnancy after a doctor told the couple their daughter would have spina bifida.

He received a 100 percent rating from anti-choice organization Louisiana Right to Life while running for governor, based off a scorecard asking him questions such as, “Do you support the reversal of Roe v. Wade?”

Though the Democratic Party platform and nominee have voiced the party’s support for abortion rights, Edwards has forged ahead with signing numerous pieces of anti-choice legislation into law, including a ban on the commonly used dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, and an extension of the state’s abortion care waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours.

News Politics

Tim Kaine Changes Position on Federal Funding for Abortion Care

Ally Boguhn

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back the Hyde Amendment's ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), the Democratic Party’s vice presidential candidate, has promised to stand with nominee Hillary Clinton in opposing the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortion care.

Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, told CNN’s State of the Union Sunday that Kaine “has said that he will stand with Secretary Clinton to defend a woman’s right to choose, to repeal the Hyde amendment,” according to the network’s transcript.

“Voters can be 100 percent confident that Tim Kaine is going to fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” Mook said.

The commitment to opposing Hyde was “made privately,” Clinton spokesperson Jesse Ferguson later clarified to CNN’s Edward Mejia Davis.

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Kaine’s stated support for ending the federal ban on abortion funding is a reversal on the issue for the Virginia senator. Kaine this month told the Weekly Standard  that he had not “been informed” that this year’s Democratic Party platform included a call for repealing the Hyde Amendment. He said he has “traditionally been a supporter of the Hyde amendment.”

Repealing the Hyde Amendment has been an issue for Democrats on the campaign trail this election cycle. Speaking at a campaign rally in New Hampshire in January, Clinton denounced Hyde, noting that it made it “harder for low-income women to exercise their full rights.”

Clinton called the federal ban on abortion funding “hard to justify” when asked about it later that month at the Brown and Black Presidential Forum, adding that “the full range of reproductive health rights that women should have includes access to safe and legal abortion.”

Clinton’s campaign told Rewire during her 2008 run for president that she “does not support the Hyde amendment.”

The Democratic Party on Monday codified its commitment to opposing Hyde, as well as the Helms Amendment’s ban on foreign assistance funds being used for abortion care. 

The Obama administration, however, has not signaled support for rolling back Hyde’s ban on federal funding for abortion care.

When asked about whether the president supported the repeal of Hyde during the White House press briefing Tuesday, Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said he did not “believe we have changed our position on the Hyde Amendment.”

When pushed by a reporter to address if the administration is “not necessarily on board” with the Democratic platform’s call to repeal Hyde, Schultz said that the administration has “a longstanding view on this and I don’t have any changes in our position to announce today.”