In wake of draft ruling overturning Roe, Minnesota groups prepare for a battle

Three women look on at the rally
The abortion rights rally in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Published: May 3 | Updated: May 4

Word that the Supreme Court may be poised to overturn Roe v. Wade provoked a range of responses Tuesday in Minnesota, where abortion remains legal — and is likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

"I think its wonderful, really exciting. Very hopeful that things will, you know, turn around now and life will be respected," said Kathleen Worlickey of Hinckley, leading the recitation of the rosary Tuesday morning in front of the We Health Clinic in downtown Duluth. It's one of a handful of abortion providers in Minnesota, and the usual Tuesday gathering of a few abortion rights opponents there had a new buoyancy.

Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood North Central States President and CEO Sarah Stoesz said her organization has "been preparing for what has seemed like this eventuality for some time…”

“We have been fortifying our delivery system so that we are ready, we have been expanding access every place that we are able,” Stoesz said.

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“We're going to see you until we absolutely cannot because abortion is safe. It's still legal everywhere. And Planned Parenthood is here for you and we are here to stay," said Dr. Sarah Traxler, the group's chief medical officer.

Hundreds of abortion rights supporters gathered outside the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday evening. 

A sign reads 'We Won't Go Back'
Abortion rights activists hold a sign that reads "We Won't Go Back" at a rally on Tuesday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Among the rally's speakers was Liz Van Heel, who learned 18 weeks into her pregnancy that her fetus' brain was not developing properly. 

"Continuing to carry a baby that was incompatible with life would have been detrimental to my emotional and mental health. I told the doctor I wanted an abortion; I wanted to move forward as soon as possible,” Van Heel said.

Mayor Jacob Frey and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum attended.

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan promised that she and Governor Tim Walz would ensure that abortion remains legal in Minnesota.

"It's OK to be scared. I'm scared too. But you know what? We have each other. And we are going to fight like hell to protect our right to abortion."

At least 100 people also gathered outside the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul for a rally.

The fresh prospect of a reversal of Roe v. Wade in a leaked court draft came as no surprise to many people. People around the country watched the Mississippi lawsuit at the heart of the case as it was argued last year, to a clearly critical court in Washington.

Minnesota would not be among the states impacted immediately. A 1995 state Supreme Court case, Doe v. Gomez, makes abortion access a constitutional right in Minnesota, and the U.S. Supreme Court looks ready to leave the issue to states.

Battles over abortion have raged for decades in Minnesota, including large protests outside providers in the Twin Cities by Operation Rescue in the early 1990s, and a bitter political dispute over a 24-hour waiting period vetoed by Gov. Jesse Ventura in 2000 — but signed into law by his successor Tim Pawlenty in 2003. That remains in effect.

Opponents of abortion rights protest outside a clinic
Opponents of abortion rights protest outside the We Health Clinic in downtown Duluth on Tuesday. The protesters said they were pleased by news of a draft Supreme Court opinion that suggested a majority of justices are poised to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

Brian Gibson is executive director of St. Paul-based Pro-Life Action Ministries, which helps organize efforts to approach and intercede with abortion seekers. He said that effort won't change, but the draft opinion will lend new energy to legislative efforts to impose new restrictions.

"Even in Minnesota with Doe v. Gomez, there's room for legislation to take place, so now it becomes who's in office and what legislation is going forward," he said.

Abortion rights supporters say there are other challenges ahead as well. Jess Braverman, legal director for St. Paul-based Gender Justice, which has filed suit against the abortion restrictions Minnesota has now, says the leaked draft opinion seems to undercut not just Roe, but also the same legal principles that underpin seemingly established law like same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights in the U.S.

"And I think that speaks volumes to the legitimacy of the court right now, and what people are feeling," Braverman said. "You know, our rights are just up for the chopping block if the majority of justices don't agree with them or don't like them. That's not how people expect the Supreme Court to operate and that's certainly how it's feeling right now."

Moses Bratrud with Minnesota Family Council, which opposes abortion rights, said he will be watching for indirect impacts in Minnesota of any decision to strike down Roe. That could effectively ban abortion in states like the Dakotas and Wisconsin — and send people seeking abortions there out of state, many of them to Minnesota. Bratrud thinks that won't sit will with many Minnesotans.

"And I think that many people of faith who are really uncomfortable with the idea of Minnesota becoming sort of an abortion mecca — that just as an idea that is going to make people uncomfortable, even people who regard themselves as moderate on the abortion issue," he said.

People watch on at an abortion rally
A person holds a sign 'My Body, My Choice," at Tuesday's abortion rally in Minneapolis.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Stoesz, the head of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said her organization expects demand for abortion services to rise by 10 to 25 percent in Minnesota if Roe is struck down and nearby states enact bans. She said such a ruling would "fall disproportionately on those who are unable to travel. It is important to underscore that an abortion ban is not an abortion ban for all people. It is only an abortion ban for those who lack the means to travel to a state where abortion is safe and accessible. And that is one of the true moral outrages of this situation."

Stoesz said donors are already signaling they are ready to help.

"We need to see what the impact is. And if it is necessary for us to open additional clinics in Minnesota or elsewhere, we absolutely will," she said.

Both sides said they expect the battle over abortion rights and access to only intensify when the court eventually issues its final ruling, likely by the end of June.

MPR News’ Dan Kraker contributed to this report.

Editor’s note: (May 4, 2022) This article has an updated peak size of a rally in St. Paul.