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Paynesville Press - April 23, 2003

"Woman's Right to Know" signed into law

By Michael Jacobson

Senator Michelle Fischbach (R-Paynesville) can finally find a place to file her six-inch file folder about the legislation known as "Woman's Right to Know." The legislation, requiring that information be provided signed into law last week by Governor Tim Pawlenty.

The new law - which takes effect on July 1 - requires women who want an abortion to get information about the medical risks of the procedure, about the probable gestational age of the unborn child, and about the medical risks of carrying that child to term from a physician, either by phone or in person, at least 24 hours before having an abortion.

Since patients get lots of information for all medical procedures, Fischbach said it seems reasonable that anyone undergoing an abortion should get all the information she can.

The new law also requires that physicians or their agents also inform women of possible medical assistance benefits for which she may qualify, of the father's liability to pay child support, and of any agencies that offer alternatives to abortion.

Women who want an abortion will need to sign a form acknowledging that she has been given this information. The physician will retain this signed acknowledgement in the patient's medical file for at least three years.

The law includes an exception to the 24-hour notice in cases of medical emergency. The law also requires the state to compile reports of compliance with the new information requirements for each physician as well as a general public report.

The legislation passed the House by a vote of 90-39 on Monday, April 7, and passed the Senate by a vote of 41-24 on Monday, April 14. It was signed into law three hours after the Senate vote.

While the governor has three days to sign legislation, he wanted to make a decisive statement, said Fischbach, who has pushed this legislation since being elected to the Minnesota Senate in 1996.

Minnesotans Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) has pushed the legislation for nine years in all. "This bill will now give every woman in Minnesota the opportunity to see the various stages of fetal development and learn about abortion's complications and alternatives before she arrives at a clinic to undergo an abortion," said MCCL vice president Marice Rosenberg.

Fischbach attributed the passage of Woman's Right to Know to the election of Pawlenty, a pro-lifer in November. Twice before the legislation passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Governor Jesse Ventura, who is pro-choice.

Several years ago, Fischbach thought she had negotiated a version that Ventura would sign but he ended up vetoing that version.

Through the life of the legislation, a version that could be supported by many legislators was developed, Fischbach noted. Some provisions that evolved included not requiring the physician's name and allowing patients to get information from their physician in advance by phone, meaning only one trip to the clinic is necessary.

"We didn't compromise any of the big issues," said Fischbach.

Versions of Woman's Right to Know had 36 authors in the Senate, more than a majority. Going into the session Fischbach knew that support like this in the House and Senate, along with a pro-life governor, should enable the bill to pass into law this year. She was pleased that the bill got 41 votes in the final Senate vote.

All six local legislators - Sen. Steve Dille (R-Dassel), Fischbach, Rep. Bud Heidgerken (R-Freeport), Sen. Dean Johnson (DFL-Willmar) Rep. Doug Stang (R-Cold Spring), and Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) voted in favor of Woman's Right to Know, which was attached to a another bill.

Johnson told the St. Cloud Times that he would have preferred a straight vote on the measure.

Fischbach noted that they followed the Senate rules in getting the legislation to the floor and said that DFL members on key committees prevented the bill from getting to the Senate floor as a stand-alone bill.

With Woman's Right to Know finally passing, Fischbach - who is married to MCCL executive director Scott Fischbach - said their next legislative priority is the Taxpayer's Protection Act, which would eliminate state support to any group or organization that provides abortion or consultations for them. This bill would target state grants to agencies like Planned Parenthood.

"This is a good year to do that one because we need to do budget cuts anyway," said Fischbach.

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