20-week abortion ban passes Minnesota Senate panel after emotional testimony
ST. PAUL — A Minnesota Senate panel on Thursday, March 14, voted to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, paving the way for the proposal to advance in the Legislature.
The bill would ban abortions on women who are past 20 weeks in their pregnancy except in cases of possible death or serious physical harm. Risk of substantial and irreversible psychological or emotional conditions would not be included.
Those who perform the procedure or attempt to perform it would be guilty of a felony under the proposal. And the woman who had an abortion, as well as the father of the unborn child, would be able to bring a civil lawsuit against the provider.
Supporters said the bill was needed to prevent a fetus from feeling pain during an abortion procedure and hoped to take up a debate about abortion in Minnesota after other states approved bills allowing abortions to take place later in pregnancy.
"These unborn children can feel pain, they are in many circumstances treated as a separate patient from the mother and as a society," bill author Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said. "We need to start deciding when we want to protect human life."
A spokeswoman from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life also stood to support the bill.
Opponents, including physicians, civil liberties advocates and women who had abortions after 20 weeks, spoke against the bill and said it would pose a danger to the health of pregnant women.
“Women are getting sicker and physicians will be forced to allow them to get sicker than they otherwise would in order to prove the point that her life is at risk,” Siri Fibiger, Vice Chair of Minnesota Section of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said earlier in the day. “We would anticipate seeing more women die.”
Less than 2 percent of abortions performed in the state in 2017 occurred after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. And those who obtain them often learn their unborn children face severe medical conditions that they might not survive.
Tippy Amundson learned at her 20-week ultrasound in 2016 that her child had stopped developing and wouldn't live outside the womb. Her doctor said her reproductive system could fail if she didn't have an abortion within three weeks.
“Abortions are referred to as a choice, but I did not choose this,” Amundson said. “I had an abortion and the only reason I have my son today is because I had an abortion.”
The Senate Committee on Health and Human Services Finance and Policy on a voice vote advanced the bill to another Senate committee. And while Republican leaders in the Senate have said they'll pass measures limiting access to abortion this year, the bill won't have a path forward in the Minnesota House of Representatives where Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers hold the majority.
Lawmakers on either side of the political aisle said measures dealing with women's reproductive rights and abortion access could fall into a legislative limbo this year in the country's only divided Legislature. Republicans committed to making the issue a campaign priority leading into 2020.
"I think most Minnesotans would say that when a child can feel pain, we should protect them," Benson said. "Senate Republicans are having a much more moderate Minnesotan-based conversation, we're not taking an abortion ban back to conception, we're saying when a child can feel pain, it deserves protection."
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the issue would be a top campaign point in 2020 and predicted that Democrats would flip nine Senate seats currently held by Republicans.
“There are some members of the Minnesota Senate who are out of touch with their constituents on this issue," Hortman said.