Minnesota House Votes to End Coverage of Safe Abortion Care for Low-Income Women


Among states, Minnesota has been notable for its longstanding policies to care for the health of the least advantaged. Even after Republicans took over both arms of the legislature in 2010, the administration worked to defend as much of the state support for insurance program for low-income women and children as possible, despite GOP attempts to gut it in favor of tax cuts.

When the Affordable Care Act allowed states to begin preparation for their own insurance exchanges, the Dayton administration responded eagerly to accept funds and begin to craft their own exchange. Now, anti-choice politicians are using Gov. Mark Dayton’s enthusiasm for the program as a means to try to codify abortion restrictions that they have failed for years to get through the legislature and into law.

Democratic Representative Patti Fritz, a long-time anti-choice legislator, has offered a new amendment to the health exchange bill which will not only dismantle the rights of low-income women to funding for  safe abortion care, but will also restrict abortion coverage in the state’s insurance exchange. Her amendment, which remained in the bill that passed the House, would forbid any plan in the exchange from covering abortions unless the procedure was necessary to save the recipient’s life, or if she was a victim of a sexual assault reported immediately to the police.

(2) when the pregnancy is the result of criminal sexual conduct as defined in section
1.9609.342, clauses (c), (d), (e), item (i), and (f), and the incident is reported within 48
1.10hours after the incident occurs to a valid law enforcement agency for investigation, unless
1.11the victim is physically unable to report the criminal sexual conduct, in which case the
1.12report shall be made within 48 hours after the victim becomes physically able to report
1.13the criminal sexual conduct; or
1.14(3) when the pregnancy is the result of incest, but only if the incident and relative are
1.15reported to a valid law enforcement agency for investigation prior to the abortion.

The amendment would create a stark turn in access to abortion in a state, where a woman’s right to choose has not only been long-acknowledged, but as a result of the 1996 Doe v. Gomez ruling, has been a protected right enjoyed by all women, regardless of income.

The House bill will go to committee with a Senate version which has yet to pass, and any differences between the two will be negotiated for a final time. In that committee the amendment could be stripped. But should the Senate add the same amendment to their final bill, Governor Mark Dayton will be stuck with a decision that is essentially a win-win for anti-choice factions. He would have to either veto the full bill, which would destroy and exchange that they never wanted in the first place, or allow the exchange to go into effect with the new restrictions. If that happens, abortion opponents have the challenge to Doe v. Gomez that they have been maneuvering to get for years.

“The outcome of this would be that we would treat—for purposes of a medical procedure—poor women differently from rich women. And regardless of how you feel about abortion, I don’t think anybody in the body feels that poor women ought to be treated different from rich folks when it comes to any sort of medical care,” said Rep. Joe Atkins, the author of the health care exchange bill. But sadly, Akins is wrong to believe that anti-choice activists wouldn’t be happy to enforce their agenda on the poor even if they can’t ban abortion for the rest.

Alaska is a prime example of this: Sen. John Coghill has desperately tried to limit Medicaid coverage of abortions. Coghill also put a limit on which rape victims could have their abortions covered by insurance, although his bill offered an unspecific “prompt reporting” requirement rather than a tight, immediate 48-hour timeframe. Coghill’s vague reporting requirement was eliminated, but the debate over whether poor women should be allowed to use Medicaid to pay for abortions continues, with one bill supporter, Sen. John Dyson, even comparing allowing abortions to be covered to be equivalent to forcing taxpayers to pay for slaves to be returned to their owners under the Runaway Slave Act prior to the Civil War. “It’s morally repugnant,” Dyson stated in a recent hearing on the ban.

Of course, many would find it morally repugnant to force low-income women to give birth because they cannot afford abortions, especially if a pregnancy was the result of a sexual assault that wasn’t reported within two days, as would be the case under the Minnesota bill. “We are deeply disappointed in the Representatives who chose to vote in favor of this restrictive and damaging amendment. It is both degrading and heart wrenching to force a survivor of rape to report her traumatizing experience to the government in order to cover a legal medical procedure,” said NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota in a statement. “It is our sincere hope that this amendment—which repeals existing healthcare coverage of abortion—will be eliminated from the final version of Minnesota’s healthcare insurance exchange.”

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life is calling the ban a reflection of the will of Minnesota residents. “The health care exchange bill in the House now reflects the will of the Minnesota House of Representatives and the will of the people of Minnesota, the majority of whom oppose abortion and abortion coverage,” MCCL Legislative Associate Andrea Rau told Lifenews.  It’s unclear which “majority” Rau believes the bill represents, but as a Minnesotan I feel safe in saying that the true majority of the state is not in favor of forcing victims of rape to carry to term and give birth to their rapist’s baby against their will for the “crime” of not reporting her attack within 48 hours and not having the financial means to pay for an abortion.

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