Abortion foes criticize GOP allies for failing to uphold cloning ban

Angered that a 2009 ban on spending state funds on human cloning was dropped from state spending bills during final budget hearings, the state's largest anti-abortion group is targeting some of its traditional allies.

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life is criticizing Republicans in the Legislature for scaling back "existing pro-life policy," pressure that has forced some Republicans to explain why they voted against one of the group's priorities.

Throughout the legislative session, MCCL lobbied the Legislature to continue the ban. Although the House and Senate both passed bills extending the ban, the measure didn't survive.

Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat who supports legalized abortion, insisted that the so-called cloning measure and other abortion-related restrictions had no place in budget bills.

In July, Republican leaders in the House and Senate agreed to Dayton's demand as part of the deal to end the three-week state government shutdown. Both chambers passed a higher education funding bill with the cloning language removed.

Every Republican present in the House voted for the bill after a debate that lasted eight minutes. No one on the floor mentioned the cloning measure.

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The Senate passed the bill after a 10-minute debate. Two Senate Republicans, Michelle Fischbach of Paynesville and Ray Vandeveer of Forest Lake, voted against it. Fischbach, who is married to MCCL executive director Scott Fischbach, was the only member to talk about the cloning measure before the vote.

"I am very, very disappointed that that was not included because that was already in session law for the last two years," she said. "Now we have removed that and I think that was legislation that we should have kept in this bill in order to protect and use state funds wisely."

MCCL leaders also are disappointed with the final action. The group's president, Leo LaLonde, distributed a fundraising e-mail this month criticizing Dayton and the Republican-controlled Legislature for failing to continue the ban.

LaLonde wrote that the end of the special session marked the first time ever that a "pro-life protection in law was not reauthorized." He also said all of the anti-abortion bills passed in the Legislature were negotiated away "in the blink of an eye."

"With the pressure to resolve the government shutdown, static negotiations, biased media commentary and dogged partisan rhetoric, the Republican leaders lost sight of what is truly at stake — the lives of innocent human beings," LaLonde wrote.

MCCL is one of the most powerful political groups in the state. It has delivered votes and support to Republicans and some Democrats who oppose legalized abortion. The group would not make LaLonde or anyone else available to talk about the e-mail.

The criticism has put some Republicans, like Speaker Kurt Zellers, on the defensive.

"We did pass all of the pro-life legislation that we thought was very important whether it be fetal pain, whether it be stem cell research, whether it be human cloning," Zellers said. "A lot of these things we passed. Gov. Dayton vetoed those bills."

Zellers said MCCL should focus its frustration on the person he said defeated the measures — the governor.

"Gov. Dayton said very emphatically that he would not sign anything that included it," Zellers said. "I guess if I were looking it as an outsider, I would say 'Well, the Legislature asked and asked more than once for these things to be passed and the governor is one who said no.' The governor is the one who has consistently said no to many common sense pro-life positions."

At least one other Republican lawmaker also is defending her record. First-term state Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick of Deer River sent an email to constituents explaining her votes.

To suggestions that she abandoned her "pro-life principles" with her votes, McElfatrick said that "nothing can be further from the truth."

When reached by MPR News, McElfatrick said it wouldn't benefit her to say anything beyond what was in her email. She added that she had no harsh words for MCCL.