Minnesota abortion rights activists plan march to Capitol this weekend

A person holds a sign in favor of abortion
Abortion rights activists protested in Minneapolis on June 24, 2022.
Tim Evans for MPR News

As the battle over abortion rights continues across the country post-Roe v. Wade, abortion rights activists in Minnesota saw a major victory this week. A district court ruled that many state laws restricting abortion violate the state constitution.

Activists are planning to march to the Capitol in St. Paul this Sunday in a rally for abortion rights. Megan Peterson is executive director of Gender Justice, one of the groups behind the March for Abortion Access, and the lawsuit in district court. She joins host Cathy Wurzer to share her group’s objective behind the march.

“We're really pleased to have the district court judge agree with us that the role of the government is not to try to influence the pregnancy outcome of any any pregnant person who may be deciding between whether to continue their pregnancy or seek abortion care,” Peterson said.

“I think the vast majority of Minnesotans agree and Americans agree that the government shouldn't play a role in trying to influence that decision one way or the other.”

Peterson said she hopes to continue work looking at more ways to help Minnesotans and those who travel to our state to access abortion care.

The protest will be held July 17 at 11 a.m. at St. Paul College where protestors will march to the Capitol. UnRestrict Minnesota, a group behind the march, encourages protestors not to use gendered language, reference coat hangers, sharia law, the underground railroad, forced sterilization or the Handmaid’s Tale on their posters.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: As the battle over abortion rights continues across the country post Roe v Wade, abortion rights activists in Minnesota saw a major victory this week. A district court ruled that many state laws restricting abortion violate the state constitution. Activists are planning to march to the capitol in St. Paul this Sunday in a rally for abortion rights.

Megan Peterson is Executive Director of Gender Justice, one of the groups behind the march for abortion access and also the lawsuit in district court. Welcome to the program, Megan.

MEGAN PETERSON: Thank you so much for having me, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Let's talk about the district court ruling this week. It's been three years of litigation. Your group led the way on challenging Minnesota's restrictions on abortion. What's the immediate effect of Ramsey County Judge Gilligan's ruling?

MEGAN PETERSON: Well, it does have a statewide effect. It permanently enjoined the restrictions that we challenged in the lawsuit. And so it couldn't have come at a better time, frankly, with the Supreme Court reversing Roe v Wade just almost three weeks ago now.

Our abortion providers and clinics here in the state have already seen an increase in patients coming from out of state. And those restrictions like the 24-hour waiting period and two-parent parental notification that were struck down on Monday were creating real barriers for those patients in the same way that they had for years for Minnesotans seeking abortion care.

CATHY WURZER: The Minnesota Citizens Concern for Life Group feels that some of the restrictions helped pregnant women and they say it's a, quote, "mistake"-- the ruling is a mistake that must be corrected. US Supreme Court decisions have upheld similar informed consent and parental notification laws. How might this play out on appeal, do you think?

MEGAN PETERSON: Well, we look forward to continuing to make the case that, actually, these laws serve no medical purpose. There's no evidence that they help patients. They really only serve to create obstacles.

They have a political basis behind them. And the intention is to make it harder for people to get care that they've already decided they want and need. And so we're really pleased to have the district court judge agree with us that the role of the government is not to try to influence the pregnancy outcome of any pregnant person who may be deciding between whether to continue their pregnancy or seek abortion care.

I think the vast majority of Minnesotans agree and Americans agree that the government shouldn't play a role in trying to influence that decision one way or the other. And we're really pleased to have fewer politically motivated obstacles in people's way as of Monday.

CATHY WURZER: The Minnesota Attorney General has 60 days to appeal. Keith Ellison is an abortion rights supporter, but he has to defend state laws. What do you think he might do.

MEGAN PETERSON: I definitely do not want to speak for the attorney general or try to read his mind on what he might do. Whatever their decision, we will continue to push for the rights of all Minnesotans to make health care decisions without government interference.

CATHY WURZER: The ruling, the Ramsey County judge's ruling, is a win for abortion rights advocates. What's the point of the rally this weekend given that win?

MEGAN PETERSON: Yeah, it really comes at such a potent time with the federal Supreme Court taking us down a path of government interference, to have Minnesota really leading the way in the other direction-- the importance of the event on Sunday is to demonstrate just how many Minnesotans are with us, agree with us, and want to see the leaders in our state actually go even further to ensure that everybody has equitable and affordable access to abortion care, that their ability to decide what is right for them and their life, whether or when to have a child at any given time is not impeded by the government, or their zip code, or whether they have health insurance or not.

That is really the work in front of us. And that's what we are so excited to bring a huge group of Minnesotans together to the Capitol on Sunday to really make that message loud and clear for not only our elected officials here in Minnesota, but really to kind of show the way for the rest of the country of what can be possible when we come together, and lift our voices, and get involved.

CATHY WURZER: You mentioned going even further to protect abortion rights. States like California are ramping up legal protections for abortion providers, putting resources into expanding access. What are you hoping for, then, in Minnesota taking it further?

MEGAN PETERSON: So, actually, on the day that the Supreme Court announced their decision in Dobbs, we co-released with the House and Senate Reproductive Freedom Caucus an agenda for abortion access in Minnesota. It's called Minnesota Beyond Roe. And it really lays out a number of steps that we look forward to pursuing in next year's legislative session that would protect patients and providers from attacks from states that move to ban abortion, as well as ensure affordable and equitable access to care for all people.

So there's a number of policy recommendations and, really, a roadmap for what comes next that's available on the Unrestrict Minnesota website. It's UnrestrictMN.org for those looking for more information.

CATHY WURZER: All right. Megan, thank you for the conversation.

MEGAN PETERSON: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Megan Peterson is Executive Director for Gender Justice, one of the groups behind the March for abortion access happening this Sunday in St. Paul.

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