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Minnesota bill to increase family planning grants

ST. PAUL Family planning proponents successfully fought off concerns Tuesday that a House bill might endorse abortion services before they ushered it through a health committee.

ST. PAUL Family planning proponents successfully fought off concerns Tuesday that a House bill might endorse abortion services before they ushered it through a health committee.

The legislation increases access to family planning in Minnesota by more than doubling state grants and calls for expansion of Medicaid services for sexually transmitted infections.

Bill's pros

The bill's author, Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, and its supporters said the proposal should help stem unwanted pregnancies, prevent abortions and create long-term savings.

Teenage girls and young women are the most in need of affordable family planning services, Huntley said. "Our teens need to know we care for them," said Chris Reif, a doctor and director at Community University Health Care Clinic in Minneapolis.

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Funding increaseThe bill would also increase funding for family planning grants from about $7.8 million to $15.8 million over two years. That would give more breathing room for family planning clinics vying for grants in a "proscribed, rigid, rule-bound" environment, said Peg LaBore, director of St. Paul's Family Tree Clinic. "This is a competitive grant process," she told lawmakers.

But expanded family planning services might draw concern from Rep. Tom Emmer. The Delano Republican grilled testifiers over whether money provided under the bill would go toward abortion referrals.

It would, but not specifically, Labore said. She said that when counseling women with unwanted pregnancies, the clients are given a list of options. Abortion services are listed, as well as adoption and other possibilities. "Our job," she told House health committee members, ". . . is to provide nondirective counseling. One of the choices is an abortion."

Failed amendmentEmmer then offered an amendment that would prohibit state-funded abortions, except where allowable under federal law. It failed on an 11-9 vote.

Clinics like LaBore's would see a boost in funding from the state under the bill. Rates for family planning services provided by community clinics those providing nonprofit health services to low income, rural, governmental entities or American Indian health services would increase by 25 percent under the legislation.

Girls between ages 11 through 19 produce about 1,500 pregnancies a year in Minnesota, Reif told legislators. Eighty percent of them are unplanned, he said.

Those girls and young women need to "learn how to be safe and healthy when they are sexually active," Reif said.

The bill also expands what a 2006 Medicaid waiver covers. The waiver pays for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for clients seeking family planning services.

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The Huntley bill calls for an expansion to the waiver by allowing sexually transmitted infections to be tested and treated by clinics, regardless of whether the client seeks family planning services.

The legislation passed on to a House health finance committee.

Longaecker writes for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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