Lawmakers: Abortion bill a matter of safety

Published 7:00 pm Saturday, April 21, 2012

Separate bill would add fee for clinics

The bill requiring that doctors prescribing an abortion be physically present when administering a drug cleared the House Wednesday. The bill was one of two proposed restrictions on abortion providers that are advancing in the Legislature. Under the bill, any doctors who do not follow the rule could be charged with a felony.

Medical abortions are often chosen over more invasive surgical abortions by women in the early stages of pregnancy. The bill stems from safety concerns related to abortion medications. Supporters say doctors cannot remotely examine a woman to be sure the drug is a good fit.

“These bills are about ensuring that the facilities are safe, ensuring women’s safety,” said Rep. Rich Murray, R-Albert Lea, who voted for the bill. Rep. Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, voted against it.

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House bill sponsor Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said that a doctor’s presence in the room would provide necessary safety and still keeps the drug legal.

“I think it’s very important that a doctor is there to make sure a woman is a good candidate before she takes the drugs,” Peppin said.

Jennifer Aulwes, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, said the House bill would end one program in Rochester where patients can take an abortion-inducing drug with a nurse in the room while video conferencing with a doctor in St. Paul — a practice called telemedicine.

Jim Koppel, the deputy commissioner of health, said the state Department of Health hasn’t taken a position on the House bill, but that many clinics offer different medications through telemedicine programs.

“These are obvious bills that aren’t about overall healthcare practice, but specific to abortion,” Koppel said.

The bill passed the House on an 80-48 vote, and is awaiting its companion bill to make it through the Senate.


Licensing and inspections

The other bill, which now heads to Gov. Mark Dayton’s signing desk, would require abortion facilities to pay license fees and undergo yearly inspections.

The bill would have facilities that perform more than 10 abortions per month pay a $3,712 annual license fee and undergo inspections up to two times per year by the commissioner of health.

Backers say it’s a needed oversight of invasive procedures. Critics argue it singles out abortion facilities over other clinics and creates barriers to abortions. The Department of Health says that clinics in the state are not licensed, but doctors and nurses at the facilities are.

The House passed the measure 80-47 on Friday, and the Senate approved it 43-23 earlier this week.

Dayton is not expected to sign the bill because of his support of abortion rights.

“He has not yet said that he would veto this,” spokeswoman Katharine Tinucci wrote in an email. “But I would point to the governor’s long record of supporting a woman’s right to choose.”

Murray said it was hard to tell exactly how likely Dayton’s signature is for either bill.

“I’m not sure that he’ll sign either one,” Murray said, adding that he thought Dayton would be more open to the licensing and inspection bill than the one requiring doctors to be present.

 —The Associated Press contributed to this report.