ST. PAUL - Abortion opponents who held their yearly march outside the Capitol on Monday acknowledged the political reality inside: They've lost clout.
Voters installed a majority of abortion rights supporters in the Minnesota Senate. The split in the House is too close to call, but abortion rights backers dominate the DFL majority that controls the agenda there.
"The silent constituency of the unborn had a rough night on election night this past November," Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty told a crowd of bundled-up demonstrators on the Capitol steps.
So far this year, no lawmaker has introduced bills to ban gay marriage or restrict abortion. With Democrats firmly in control, abortion rights supporters said abortion proposals won't get much attention - instead they want to focus on preventing unwanted pregnancies.
The Crow Wing County Chapter of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life sponsored a march Monday on the 34th Anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion in the United States. The marchers walked from the corner of Sixth and Oak streets to the courthouse for an ecumenical prayer and program. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
As abortion goes, so goes gay marriage. Those who want to put a ban on same-sex unions into Minnesota's constitution also find they've got less pull these days.
"I think we've got more important things to worry about," said Sen. Don Betzold, DFL-Fridley, who headed the Senate panel that rejected the gay marriage amendment in 2004 and 2006.
Missing this year: Citizens standing vigil against gay marriage just outside the Senate's doors. Lightning-rod legislators are gone, including former Sen. Michele Bachmann - the champion of a same-sex marriage ban, who's now serving in Congress. Former Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson is also gone after angering social conservatives and losing his election.
"He just didn't represent us anymore," said Jackie Cain, an anti-abortion activist who campaigned against Johnson and attended a Capitol reception for his successor, Sen. Joe Gimse, after Monday's march.
Gay marriage foes will shift to watching for what they fear could be steps toward same-sex marriage, such as civil unions for gays or expanded domestic partnership benefits, said Chuck Darrell, a spokesman for the Minnesota Family Council.
"We're realistic. We realize that there's more of a liberal Legislature," Darrell said.
Christian Gunderson played with his dog, Louie, before the beginning of the march by the MCCL protesting the legalization of abortion 34 years ago Monday. The marchers walked from the corner of Sixth and Oak to the courthouse. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Abortion foes still want to prohibit public funding of abortions, but Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life's executive director, Scott Fischbach, said legislative supporters will probably try to force votes by offering amendments.
"We're going to continue to push," he said. "We've always taken the long view of this."
Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota isn't talking about abortion.
Instead, the state's largest provider of family planning services is pushing legislation to double state funding for family planning to $7.5 million a year and increase Medicaid reimbursements to clinics for those services. The group also wants comprehensive sex education in grades 7 through 12.
The upshot would be fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions, said Sarah Stoesz, the group's head.
"The MCCL lost the election. We won. We could have brought forth a very strong package increasing access to abortion, but that's not what we chose to do. We chose to focus instead on prevention," Stoesz said.
Fischbach said MCCL doesn't have a position on contraception but would oppose "a money grab in block grants to abortionists." He also said sex education is outside the group's area of interest unless it focused specifically on abortion.
Pawlenty urged abortion foes not to be too discouraged by the setbacks. Instead, he told them to win over their neighbors to the anti-abortion cause.
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