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Rep. Bob Barrett relies on Rick Santorum for abortion advice

Rep. Bob Barrett.

Rep. Bob Barrett.

A House committee has just passed a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks, one of nine anti-abortion measures currently under consideration in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

Abortions like these are rare in Minnesota; about one-half of 1 percent of the total each year. Alicia Hempl had one such abortion, and she recently testified before a House committee about why she believes the procedure needs to remain safe and legal.

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Republican state Rep. Bob Barrett listened politely. But his response illustrates the chasm between those who insist abortion should remain a decision made by a woman and her doctor, and those who don't.

Hempl's doctor discovered last summer that her fetus carried a devastating chromosome abnormality called Trisomy 18. All available medical data indicated that her fetus stood a 50 percent chance of being stillborn, and a very high probability of not surviving a full year of life--a life that would have been filled with pain, along with severe physical and mental handicaps.

Her diagnosis fell outside H.F.936's proposed 20-week window. "With this proposed bill I would have not been able to save my baby from the pain she would have endured for hours, maybe days, and possibly even months until she died," Hempl said.

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"I'm not even going to try and talk about the term you use," Barrett said when she was through. "It's an area I don't think a lot of us even know about."

"These babies don't live," she said.

But Barrett plowed ahead anyway, contradicting Hempl by citing a speech by former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, an outspoken foe of abortion rights.

"Santorum shared his story about a child he had with that exact, or similar condition," Barrett said. "And he opened my eyes to the fact that these children are born, and they do live a life. And they provide love, and joy and support, and they are part of a family. And you obviously made the choice you did."

(Isabella Santorum was born with Trisomy 18 in 2008. Earlier, in 1996, Karen Santorum gave birth to a baby that her doctors predicted would not survive because of a physical abnormality in the womb. The baby died a few hours later, but the couple brought the dead baby home, introduced it to their children as "your brother Gabriel" and then spent the night with the body.)

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Barrett doesn't directly criticize Hempl. But he doesn't want her and others like her to be able to make her own medical decisions.