News Abortion

Another Legislative Session in Minnesota, Another Attempt to Challenge Doe v. Gomez

Robin Marty

Doe v. Gomez makes abortion a right regardless of a woman's ability to pay. Minnesota's anti-choice community wants to end that.

For almost two decades now, Minnesota women have had additional protection in their right to an abortion, thanks to a 1995 court ruling that declared the constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy for all women, regardless of their income. Since the Doe v. Gomez decision, which allows poor women in the state to use Medicaid coverage to pay for their abortions, anti-choice activists led by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life have made pushing a bill to end insurance coverage a legislative priority.

This year is no different, as the latest “Prohibition of state funds” bill has been introduced in the state legislature. The issue is even more urgent for 2013 as this will be the year in which Minnesota should open its state health care exchange, a move anti-choicers claim is a back-handed attempt to expand abortion funding. Conservative special interest groups began their assault on the state’s funding of abortion for low-income women last year when they promoted a lawsuit by two local anti-choice pastors claiming that allowing poor women to terminate pregnancies was a form of racial discrimination.

Both the abortion funds prohibition and a TRAP bill to force clinics that perform abortions to be inspected and licensed like ambulatory surgical centers, were introduced and passed during the 2012 legislative session, and later vetoed by Governor Mark Dayton. This year, due to the election and gains in the legislature by Democrats, the bills may not even make it that far.


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News Abortion

Minnesota GOP Primed to Attack Fetal Tissue Research

Jenn Stanley

Anti-choice protesters in September gathered outside Gov. Mark Dayton's home to rally against his decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.

Minnesota’s GOP is pushing for more restrictions on fetal tissue research at public universities after a news outlet supported by local Tea Party groups implicated the university in an illegal exchange of fetal tissue.

State Rep. Abigail Whelan (R-Anoka) in an opinion piece for the Star Tribune last week wrote that she was “appalled to learn that the University of Minnesota participates in research on aborted human fetal organs.”

The Republican backlash against fetal tissue research began after the release of surreptitiously recorded, highly edited videos published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP). Those videos were edited in an attempt to show that Planned Parenthood engaged in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. While Planned Parenthood donates fetal tissue and receives some compensation to pay for obtaining and preserving the tissue, officials have denied profiting from it. Many GOP lawmakers have launched investigations into Planned Parenthood, but those investigations have turned up no wrongdoing.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) refused to order an investigation into the state’s Planned Parenthood chapter, despite push back from anti-choice legislators and activists. Dayton told reporters in July that he did not want to spend taxpayer money on an unnecessary investigation.

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“There’s not a shred of evidence to implicate Planned Parenthood Minnesota in what they were being accused of,” Dayton said in September.

In September, anti-choice protesters gathered outside Dayton’s home to rally against the governor’s decision not to investigate the health-care organization. Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS) has long denied donating fetal tissue.

Minnesota legislators in 1990 passed a law requiring hospitals and clinics to arrange burial or cremation of fetal remains. The legal question regarding the University of Minnesota is not whether it uses aborted fetal tissue in its research, but whether that fetal tissue comes from Minnesota, NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota’s Executive Director Andrea Ledger told Rewire.

The controversy is over how the statute should be interpreted, whether it means that aborted fetal tissue must be cremated or buried immediately, or whether that means that when it’s disposed, it must be cremated or buried. One interpretation outlaws the donation of fetal tissue, and one does not. Ledger says she doesn’t think it’s about the research at all—it’s about access to abortion.

“This is model legislation that’s being introduced in lots of different states,” Ledger said. “It comes from a desire not to regulate fetal tissue research, which we’ve all benefited from and which has had a huge impact on health and science, but it’s about restricting reproductive rights.”

Whelan, in her commentary for the Star Tribune, credits an investigation by a Tea Party-supported media outlet, Alpha News, with proving that the university is performing research using aborted fetal tissue, but the issue is really whether or not that tissue comes from Minnesota.

Alpha News alleges to be a news site, but has one named reporter. Everyone else affiliated with the organization has chosen to remain anonymous. The CMP attack video shows someone from Advanced Biomedical Research (ABR), where the University of Minnesota buys fetal tissue from, saying that Minnesota is among the states from which it procured tissue.

Julia Erynn, Alpha News’ chief capitol reporter and the only staffer named on the organization’s site, told the Star Tribune in March that the news outfit would generate ad revenue, but also received funding from “a number of private donors” who remain unknown. Erynn reportedly describes herself as a libertarian and emceed the 2014 Libertarian Party of Minnesota Convention.

The Tribune reported that Alex Kharam, executive director of the Freedom Club, is listed as the registered agent for Alpha News. The Freedom Club’s PAC, per its website, “has spent millions supporting conservative Minnesota candidates for public office.” Almost all of the Freedom Club money given to candidates has gone to Republicans, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

A Freedom Club representative has denied affiliation with Alpha News.

Whelan wrote that she wants the university to halt research on aborted fetal tissue no matter where the tissue comes from. She declined an interview with Rewire.

“The university receives millions of taxpayer dollars each year,” Whelan wrote. “Given the controversial nature of this research, we believe it is the duty of the Legislature to request that the university prohibit all research on aborted human fetal organs, thereby removing itself from this controversy and respecting the moral stance of thousands of taxpaying Minnesotans.”

Minnesota’s legislative session begins March 1. Ledger says she expects both Republicans and Democrats to propose legislation regarding fetal tissue research.

Roundups Law and Policy

Onslaught of Anti-Choice Bills to Come in 2016

Teddy Wilson

Missouri lawmakers, for example, have pre-filed at least seven bills to restrict reproductive rights.

State legislatures are often referred to as the laboratories of democracy, and state lawmakers have for years experimented with a deluge of policies designed to restrict or outright ban access to reproductive health care.

State legislators in the first half of 2015 introduced more than 200 bills to restrict reproductive health care. By year’s end, 47 anti-choice laws had been enacted. Measures to expand mandatory waiting periods, ban abortion before viability, and shut down clinics were all passed in 2015, according to a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Republican-majority legislatures are likely to continue to follow that trend during the 2016 legislative sessions, with GOP policymakers primed to introduce new ingredients into their anti-choice experiments.

Forty-six states will have legislative sessions in 2016. Most of those state legislatures go into session sometime in January, with a handful beginning their sessions in February. Louisiana and Minnesota begin their sessions in March, and Arkansas and North Carolina begin sessions in April.

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Republicans dominate state legislatures and governors’ offices. Republicans have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in 23 states, while Democrats have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in seven states. There are 19 states in which partisan control of the government is divided.

States to Watch

Anti-choice legislation has been introduced in every state legislature since 2011, but lawmakers in some states introduce a barrage of anti-choice bills during each legislative session.

Republicans in Missouri have introduced 22 anti-choice bills during the past two legislative sessions, and lawmakers have waged a legislative battle against the state’s only abortion clinic. The so-called Committee on the Sanctity of Life has been used as a cudgel by anti-choice lawmakers to attack Planned Parenthood’s funding and access to reproductive health care.

Missouri’s 2015 session begins January 6. State lawmakers have pre-filed at least seven bills to restrict reproductive rights. One bill would ban abortion “performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome,” and another bill would restrict minors’ access to abortion care.

Lawmakers in Missouri have until January 6 to pre-file bills for the 2016 legislative session.

While most state legislatures convene in January, lawmakers in Louisiana will not begin their legislative session until March. The state has been one of the key fronts in the battle over reproductive rights and in recent years lawmakers have aggressively sought to restrict access to abortion.

Staunchly anti-choice Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is serving his last few days in office, and Democratic Governor-elect John Bel Edwards will soon take the oath of office. It is unclear if Edwards will be as hostile to abortion rights as Jindal, but Edwards campaigned on a series of anti-choice positions.

There are four state legislatures that do not have legislative sessions during 2016. Texas is the most notable of those states. Few states have had the kind of impact on reproductive rights as the Lone Star State. Not only have GOP lawmakers passed bills that have severely restricted access to reproductive health care—those bills have been replicated in other states.

While Texas lawmakers will not be able to make a direct impact on reproductive rights in 2016, one of the bills passed by Texas Republicans during the 2013 legislative session will be at the center of the most significant reproductive rights cases to come before the Supreme Court in the past two decades. The Roberts Court’s ruling on the challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law, HB 2, could impact access to abortion care in states around the country.

Other states to watch: Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.

Legislative Experiments

The most common type of anti-choice policies in state legislatures over the past several years has been targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) bills. These bills single out abortion clinics and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to other types of clinics. TRAP bills have also been among the most successful proposals introduced by anti-choice lawmakers, having been passed by Republican-majority legislatures in several states.

Other types of restrictions on reproductive rights likely to be widely introduced, based on the pre-filed bills in multiple states, include bans on abortion based on the sex or race of the fetus, bans on abortion based on genetic abnormalities, including Down syndrome, mandatory waiting periods or forced counseling for women seeking abortions, and bans on insurance coverage of abortion care or bans on coverage of abortion care in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.

Undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees, published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), claimed the videos proved Planned Parenthood was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses. The videos gave anti-choice lawmakers in Congress and in Republican-controlled states political cover to conduct investigations into Planned Parenthood and propose new restrictions on abortion care.

CMP has worked closely with Republican legislators to launch political attacks against Planned Parenthood and cut off its state and federal funding.

While the investigations conducted in Congress and in multiple states have concluded that Planned Parenthood has not broken any state or federal fetal tissue donation laws, lawmakers are proposing new policies to restrict fetal tissue donation or create new regulations to govern the handling and disposal of fetal tissue.

A Missouri lawmaker pre-filed a bill that would prohibit any type of fetal tissue donation. SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder (R), would create a ban on donating or making an “anatomical gift of the fetal organs and tissue resulting from an abortion to any person or entity for medical, scientific, experimental, therapeutic, or any other use.”

Another bill pre-filed by a lawmaker in Michigan would ban any financial compensation for fetal tissue donation. HB 5086, sponsored by Rep. John Bizon (R), would prohibit any person from knowingly financially benefiting from or receiving “any type of compensation for the distribution or transfer” of an the tissue, organs, or cells of an embryo or fetus “obtained as the result of an elective abortion.”

Lawmakers experimenting with bills to regulate how physicians provide abortion care created anti-choice Frankenstein legislation in the form of bans on “dismemberment” abortions. The bills, copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, would criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions. 

The bans target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.

Lawmakers in both Michigan and Missouri have pre-filed bills to ban the D and E abortion procedure, and lawmakers in others states are likely to follow suit.