Minnesota Aims for Abortion ‘Sanctuary’ Status; Funding for Crisis-Pregnancy Centers Eliminated
The North Star State is one of several states squeezing pro-life alternatives as it expands access to abortion.
ST. PAUL, Minn. — Rachel Copeland-Nunn had no health insurance during her last two pregnancies, but she was the recipient of free prenatal medical care and baby supplies at a pro-life pregnancy-resource center in St. Paul that receives public funds from the Minnesota state government.
“Today, I have three beautiful, healthy children whom I raise as a single parent, and the two youngest boys are here because of the medical team at Options for Women East,” Copeland-Nunn told a legislative committee earlier this spring, touting what she called “the care and compassion” she received for “me and my baby as whole people.”
Copeland-Nunn urged legislators not to abolish a state program called Positive Alternatives, which provides about $3.35 million a year for 25 crisis-pregnancy centers in Minnesota, including Options for Women East.
“As a Black mother raising my babies on my own, places like this are extremely needed in my community. I know I’m not, like, alone in this situation, with working and trying to keep everything together,” Copeland-Nunn told the Minnesota House of Representatives’ Health Policy and Finance Committee on March 29.
But the grant program, which was initiated in 2005, is ending. A health bill finalized during the past few days eliminates state funding for Positive Alternatives, including almost $200,000 a year that goes to Options for Women East.
Abortion Politics in Play
Such pregnancy centers don’t provide or promote abortion, and their pro-life orientation is being attacked by politicians in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Women who go to pro-life pregnancy-resource centers (PRCs) “are denied access to full reproductive health education, counsel, and referral,” and abolishing the program “promotes equity and inclusion insofar as medical information can be offered in an unbiased, individually responsive manner,” states the budget proposal book of Gov. Tim Walz, who in January 2023 signed a bill defining abortion as a “fundamental right” in state law.
More recently, the governor signed legislation shielding women who come to Minnesota for abortions from possible legal repercussions in their home states.
A spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Health pointed the Register to another passage in the budget book that says, “MDH recognizes the importance of supporting comprehensive and accurate reproductive information and health care and in supporting families with young children to thrive. Repeal of this section will end a program that does not support this goal.”
The governor also told Minnesota Public Radio News in January that the grant program had resulted in “misinformation” being given to pregnant women who “deserve to have the whole picture.”
Pro-abortion public-policy advocates and their allies claim crisis-pregnancy centers trick abortion-seeking women into entering their pro-life facilities and then mislead them with false information about their pregnancy and about how much time they have to make a decision. And some media outlets circulate these claims as fact: The pro-abortion argument was summed up in a caption for a graphic in a news story published by Minnesota Public Radio in January, which stated, “‘Crisis pregnancy centers’ are anti-abortion fake clinics that spread misinformation, encouraging pregnant people not to obtain abortion care.”
But that’s not the experience of Copeland-Nunn, 28, whose children are 9, 4 and 4 months old. She told the Register she never considered abortion because she believes it’s murder, but that she considered adoption for her youngest — and that Options for Women East helped her keep all of her children and “helped me provide a much better quality of life” for them.
She said she never felt misled or deceived at Options for Women East. “If anybody’s misleading anybody, it’s those abortion clinics,” she said.
Officials at crisis-pregnancy centers contacted by the Register say they provide free-of-charge pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and (in some places) tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, as well as practical items such as diapers, wipes, clothes, strollers, car seats, pack-and-play cribs, formula and breastfeeding supplies.
Eliminating state funding will force them to decrease the services they provide, they say.
“It’s going to be devastating to some of our metro affiliates that provide so much material support and to the women who get it,” said Vaunae Hansel, president of Elevate Life, an affiliate of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis that has 35 crisis-pregnancy-center affiliates in Minnesota, including Options for Women East, in a telephone interview with the Register. “And it’s only going to affect the poorest neighborhoods, so that’s what I’m really worried about. … We should be expanding our support to our high-risk, low-income population, not cutting it off.”
Trend in Pro-Abortion States
Minnesota is one of several abortion-friendly states that is expanding access to abortion while also discouraging certain alternatives.
In Illinois, the state Legislature passed a bill May 11 that enables the state attorney general to go after crisis-pregnancy centers if they engage in what the bill calls “deceptive practices.” The bill provides a civil penalty of up to $50,000. It also enables “any party aggrieved by a violation of the Act” to sue pregnancy centers in state court. The governor is expected to sign the bill.
The state attorney general, Kwame Raoul, a Democrat, said in March he saw “deceptive crisis-pregnancy center tactics firsthand” when he visited a Planned Parenthood center in Illinois and observed pro-lifers trying to divert abortion-seekers to a pro-life pregnancy center. In a written statement, Raoul called the behavior “an extreme violation of trust and patient privacy that should not occur in our state.”
But opponents of the bill say it violates the First Amendment of the federal Constitution and targets organizations that do good.
“This is going to create kind of a chilling effect of the speech of pregnancy centers, and that’s what they want,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, in a telephone interview.
Connecticut enacted a comparable (though somewhat different) bill in May 2021, which led to a federal lawsuit by an organization that operates a crisis-pregnancy center in the state. The lawsuit was withdrawn after the state attorney general acknowledged in court papers he had no evidence of any pregnancy centers violating the law.
In June 2022, New York’s governor signed into law a bill authorizing the state’s commissioner of health “to conduct a study and issue a report examining … the impact of limited service pregnancy centers on the ability of women to obtain accurate, non-coercive health care information and timely access to a comprehensive range of reproductive and sexual health care services.”
“Really, it’s just to prevent them from doing the work that they do,” said Kristen Curran, director of government relations for the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops in public-policy matters, by telephone.
She added that no substantive action seems to have resulted from the bill so far.
Abortion advocates have long opposed pregnancy centers. Some of the same arguments against them being used nowadays, for instance, appeared in news stories in 2005, when Minnesota first implemented its Positive Alternatives grant program for pro-life pregnancy-resource centers.
Minnesota had a split government when the Positive Alternatives bill was enacted in May 2005. The governor at the time, Tim Pawlenty, was a pro-life Republican. Republicans also controlled the state House of Representatives. But the state Senate was controlled by the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (the state affiliate of the national Democratic Party). Even so, the bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both chambers (53-11 in the Senate and 112-17 in the House).
At the time, the national Democratic Party platform said, “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.”
But the party dropped that language from its platform in 2008. And the political atmosphere is starkly different now.
“The abortion industry about 10 years ago decided they’re going after pregnancy centers, and the way that they’re doing it is leveraging their power in state legislatures,” said Jor-El Godsey, president of Heartbeat International, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, which operates about 3,300 pro-life pregnancy-resource center affiliates, including more than 2,000 in the United States.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision in June 2022, overturning Roe v. Wade and sending abortion law back to the states, abortion supporters in state legislatures are in no mood to tolerate pro-life efforts.
“Abortion proponents understand that pregnancy-resource centers are the beating heart of the pro-life movement,” said Maggee Hangge, policy and public relations associate of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s bishops, in an email message to the Register.
“Pregnancy-resource centers are an embodiment of love in action, showing that we can love both mothers and babies and offer a credible witness to pro-life principles,” she said. “That story undercuts the pro-abortion narrative of trying to tie abortion rights to women’s well-being and pitting a mother against her child.”
“There is a great irony that abortion advocates claim that the pro-life community does not care about women,” Hangge added, “and when we create hundreds of PRCs, they say they are a danger to women and try to shut them down.”
- funding of abortion
- helping moms and babies
- pro-life pregnancy centers
- crisis pregnancy center
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