By Ruby Kubista and Paul Stark
U.S. Sen. Al Franken is cosponsoring a far-reaching but little-known new abortion bill. It should alarm all Minnesotans who care about empowering pregnant women and minimizing the incidence of abortion.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing last month on the Women's Health Protection Act (S. 1696). This badly misnamed legislation would nullify most federal and state limits on abortion.
At the federal level, it would eliminate most, if not all, limits on government funding of abortion and laws respecting the conscience of health care workers who do not want to be involved in abortion.
At the state level, the bill would wipe away laws protecting unborn children after 20 weeks as well as meaningful restrictions after viability (when a broad "health" exception would make bans impossible).
It effectively would establish abortion on demand until birth nationwide.
And it would eliminate informed-consent laws such as Minnesota's Woman's Right to Know. This law, enacted in 2003, requires that women be provided with basic factual information at least 24 hours before an abortion (except in medical emergencies). That information includes the medical risks of the abortion procedure (as well as the risks of childbirth), the age of the unborn child, the medical assistance benefits available for prenatal care and childbirth, and the father's legal responsibilities. After 20 weeks of pregnancy, abortion providers must discuss with women the option of using anesthesia to alleviate pain experienced by the unborn child. And women must also be given the opportunity to review materials produced by the Minnesota Department of Health (available at health.state.mn.us/wrtk/handbook.html). Those materials include information about fetal development, abortion methods and risks, and alternatives to abortion.
Why is this state law important? Because women have a right to be fully informed before undergoing any surgery — especially surgery with profound moral significance and life-changing consequences. They have a right to know all the facts. And they have a right to pursue the abortion alternatives that are available to them.
In 2013, according to the Minnesota Department of Health, 12,164 women received the Woman's Right to Know information; 9,903 actually had abortions. That means 2,261 women opted against abortion when presented with basic facts and alternatives and when given time to arrive at a decision.
Woman's Right to Know empowers women and, in doing so, makes abortion less likely. Polls consistently show that informed-consent laws enjoy broad public support.
But Franken, it seems, won't stand for it. He is one of 35 co-sponsors of the federal bill that would erase Woman's Right to Know from the books — along with many other popular, common-sense laws in states across the country. Franken always and vigorously has opposed protections for unborn children, and he always and staunchly has supported abortion advocacy groups like NARAL Pro-Choice America. But the extremism of this legislation takes his commitment to another level.
The Women's Health Protection Act is not about protecting women's health. On the contrary, it would invalidate some measures that safeguard health in abortion facilities. It seems designed to strip away abortion limits and prevent states from regulating abortion in the future.
The bill reflects no concern for or even recognition of the developing human being who is killed in abortion. Nor is there much regard for the way abortion can impact women. Abortion, in this view, is a morally trivial act and a public good calling for immediate and unencumbered access. But that is not what most people, whether they consider themselves pro-life or pro-choice, believe.
Franken's support for unfettered abortion until birth puts him far outside the American mainstream. Minnesotans should know where he stands.
Ruby Kubista is chapter coordinator and Paul Stark is communications associate for the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (mccl.org).