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Ventura Gets Tangled in Abortion Debate
by Amy Radil
April 6, 2000
Part of MPR's Session 2000 coverage
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Governor Ventura sent confusing signals on where he stands on an abortion-related bill passed by the House last night. The so-called "women's right to know" bill would require abortion providers to offer information on the risks of abortion and a 24-hour wait for the procedure. House sponsors claim the measure had been tailor-made to receive Ventura's support. Lawmakers who support legalized abortion worried Ventura has changed his stance on abortion and demanded a meeting with him. They came away saying they felt reassured that no backroom deals have been made. But just where Ventura stands on the issue, and why he entered the fray at all, are still unclear.

Sen. Jane Ranum says the House bill is not only more strict, but contains vaguely worded definitions that would affect many more women.
THE VISITING CHAPLAIN to the Minnesota House began the day by thanking legislators for passing the so-called "women's right to know" bill, which requires a 24-hour waiting period for women prior to receiving an abortion. But a number of legislators who support legalized abortion were far from grateful for the bill's surprise appearance, and upset to hear of the Ventura Administration's apparent support for the measure.

About 20 legislators marched on Ventura's office and demanded an explanation. DFL Representative Wes Skoglund of Minneapolis said they wanted to see if Ventura had changed from his traditional support for legalized abortion. "We heard the Governor supported this bill and it runs contrary to what his written words say and his oral words say, and I think all of us said we need to confront the governor on it to see if he was correctly depicted as being in support of the bill," Skoglund said.

Lawmakers also were upset about rumors that Ventura had made a deal to support the right-to-know legislation in exchange for something else, such as his unicameral bill. Eventually three legislators were admitted to speak to Ventura. DFL Senator Jane Ranum of Minneapolis emerged saying she felt reassured Ventura did not strike a bargain with House Republicans on abortion legislation.

But Ventura did say he supports a 24-hour waiting period, according to Ranum. She says she tried to emphasize the difference between the House bill passed last night and the "right to know" bill that already passed the Senate. Like the House bill, the Senate version would provide for distribution of information on the risks of abortion, but contains only an optional 24-hour waiting period and is mild enough to be supported by legislators who support legalized abortion.

Ranum says the House bill is not only more strict, but contains vaguely worded definitions that would affect many more women. "Maybe I am getting very personal but I have had a relative who went through a stillbirth and under that definition after the stillbirth that mother is still supposed to get notice," Ranum said. "That is cruel."

"He is four-square for a woman's right to choose, he will not support measures to restrict that right."

- Jan Malcolm
Commissioner of Health
Ventura declined to comment on whether he would support either the House or Senate measure. His health commissioner, Jan Malcolm, says he will oppose any bill that restricts abortion access, but she didn't specify whether he would sign or veto either measure. "He is four-square for a woman's right to choose, he will not support measures to restrict that right," Malcolm said. "He wants to turn this whole discussion in a much more positive direction, saying if we're going to be giving women information to inform their decisions we also want to give them information to help avoid unintended pregnancies to begin with."

House Republicans tailored their bill to meet a list of principles released by the Ventura Administration. The principles specify a doctor's name must not be released ahead of time in any right-to-know bill, and the information provided to women must be objective. DFL Representative Alice Hausman of St. Paul objected that the bill's sponsors rejected an amendment furthering one of Ventura's goals, the prevention of unwanted pregnancies. It would have required men as well as women to review information on pregnancy and family planning.

"If this is about unwanted pregnancies, shouldn't we mandate that all sexually active men and women seek out and use good information?" Hausman asked. "But we are funding fault with the woman, we are saying this is your responsibility and only yours."

But the negotiations surrounding the bill remain murky. Despite Ventura's reassurances to right-to-know opponents, House Speaker Steve Sviggum says Ventura's staff pledged he would sign the bill. The Senate will consider the House bill Monday, and will likely vote it up or down without amendments, sending it to the governor's desk.