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Abortion legislation gaining traction in Minn.

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota women would not be able to receive state-funded abortions and could get no abortion 20 weeks after conception in bills that appear more likely than ever to pass the Legislature this year.

Two committees approved the bills Tuesday. Full House and Senate votes are unlikely before May, but with the GOP holding majorities in both houses the measures have better chances to pass than in past years when Democrats controlled at least one house.

The bills face a challenge in Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, who favors abortion rights. Republicans hope enough Democrats join Republican majorities and provide votes to override any Dayton veto.

In a year when fixing a $5 billion budget deficit has hogged legislative headlines, the anti-abortion measures are slipping through committees with relatively little debate.

Sen. Gretchen Hoffman, R-Vergas, said her bill and a similar one in the House would ban abortions 20 weeks after conception because that is when scientists say a fetus can feel pain.

"As a society we need to recognize that these babies are human beings," Hoffman said. "The act of performing an abortion on a baby that can field pain is inhumane."

The bill would not stop large numbers of abortions, she said. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life provided information that showed that if the bill had been law in 2009, eight abortions would have been illegal. Twice that number would have been banned in 2008.

Andrea Rau of the anti-abortion group said at 20 weeks, a fetus would be about a foot long and have hair and working vocal cords. And it could feel pain.

Hoffman's bill would allow some abortions after 20 weeks, such as when the mother's life is in danger or if carrying the fetus to term would endanger her physical health.

Violating the law would be a felony.

The other bill bans any state money for abortions, although it does not ban abortions.

Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said he brought the bill because a majority of Minnesotans do not approve of abortion and he does not think taxpayers should be forced to pay for them.

The state has paid $1.6 million for abortions in the past two decades, according to Jordan Bauer of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

"Our taxpayer dollars have been used to kill unborn children, she said.

Karen Law of a pro-choice group said eliminating state-funded abortions most affects women of color and the poor because those with money still will be able to afford abortions.

"The bills introduced are just an attack on poor women," Law said.

The Rev. Michael Rock of a northern Twin Cities church said the Legislature has no business making such decisions. "It's a choice between women and their god."

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.