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20-week abortion ban bill advances in Minnesota Legislature

Forum News Service photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL — A proposal to ban abortion 20 weeks after fertilization took another step forward in the Minnesota Legislature on Friday, March 29.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy advanced the bill on a voice vote after passing on a discussion about the proposal. The bill moves now to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

The bill would ban abortions on women after 20 weeks post-fertilization 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. 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 including a spokeswoman from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said the bill was needed to prevent a fetus from feeling pain during an abortion procedure. They also said they hoped to take up a debate about abortion in Minnesota after other states approved bills allowing abortions to take place later in pregnancy.

"It's time for Minnesota to acknowledge that unborn babies feel pain during the course of an abortion," said bill author Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake. "And it's my contention that babies deserve to be protected."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disagrees with that assessment and says a fetus doesn't have the brain structures needed to process pain signals until at least 24 weeks of gestation.

Opponents, including civil liberties advocates and women's reproductive rights advocates, spoke against the bill and said it would pose a danger to the health of pregnant women.

"Decisions about reproductive health care are constitutionally protected because these decisions should be made between a woman and her doctor, free from political interference," NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota Executive Director Andrea Ledger said. "This bill would criminalize and imprison doctors."

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. Those who undergo the procedure often do so after learning their unborn children face severe medical conditions that they might not survive.

Leaders in the Democrat-led Minnesota House of Representatives have said they won't take up the bill.