Abortion access bill advances as ground shifts on issue at MN Capitol

Protesters hold a banner during a march
Hundreds of people marched through the streets of Minneapolis against the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on June 24. Six months later Minnesota lawmakers are working to codify abortion into state law.
Caroline Yang for MPR

After the Supreme Court last year overturned the federal right to an abortion and left a patchwork of legal abortion options around the country, Minnesota lawmakers are considering cementing the right in state law.

Minnesotans have a constitutional right to abortion under a 1995 state Supreme Court case, but some say that’s not enough.

“I see the reality of people forced to travel out of state for abortion care. 18 states have bans or near total bans on abortion. Minnesota's abortion access is critical right now, for Minnesotans and for people across the country,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, the chief medical director for Planned Parenthood North Central States. 

Traxler told the House Health Finance and Policy Committee that she’s seen a 13 percent increase in patients coming from other states after several outlawed or restricted abortion. And she said even with the court’s ruling, providers and patients face uncertainty.

Protesters hold signs
Hundreds of people gathered at the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs to rally for reproductive rights on June 24, 2022 in Minneapolis.
Caroline Yang for MPR

At the Capitol, DFLers are pushing to codify the right to abortion in state law along with other services that weren't addressed by the state court ruling– including contraception and sterilization. They call it the “Protect Reproductive Options”or PRO Act, and say the proposal is their number one priority this year. 

“We need the Pro Act so that Minnesotans and all patients know that they are welcome here,” Traxler said. “We must reassure them that Minnesota supports them and our commitment to their reproductive rights and health care will not change.”

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Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie, is the bill’s sponsor. She said the lawmakers should act now to ensure Minnesotans can access abortions and other reproductive health services.

“What happens to Roe could happen in Minnesota too. Over mere months, 15 states across the country have banned abortion,” Kothyza-Witthuhn said. “This past election, voters spoke decisively and told us that they believe every Minnesotan should be able to make their own reproductive health care decisions.”

In its first hearing, the proposal drew blowback from several people and anti-abortion groups. Sherry Litz of Hastings wore a shirt that read “abortion is murder” across the back as she testified.

“These are lives that they’re killing. These are lives that they put to death. These are human lives,” Litz said. “Babies are gifts, and God help us because there’s going to be judgment on us.”

Woman wears shirt that says "Abortion is Murder"
Sherry Litz of Hastings wore this shirt she testified at a House Health Finance and Policy Committee meeting against a bill that codifies reproductive rights in state law on Thursday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Tim Miller, a former state representative now with the group Pro-Life Action Ministries, said the measure didn’t take into consideration the life and rights of the fetus.

“This bill is not about women's rights over their own bodies,” he said. “This bill pits the mother and the child against each other.”

The bill would also bar local governments from enacting policies that infringe on Minnesotans' reproductive health rights. Miller tried to get the Prinsburg City Council to enact a Texas-style abortion ban, but the council refused to consider it after Attorney General Keith Ellison advised them it would be unconstitutional.  

The bill at the Capitol spurred strong support from health care providers, civil rights and reproductive health advocates. 

A person speaks into a microphone in front of a large white building.
Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan addresses a crowd during an abortion rights march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Samantha Alsadi, a lawyer and sexual assault survivor, said she was frustrated that she had to ask lawmakers to grant Minnesotans rights over their reproductive health choices. And she urged them to pass the bill.

“Our children and teenagers who are victims of rape, just like I was 20 years ago, may be forced to carry a fetus from the rapist to term. We are already seeing this happening in many other states. And it is absolutely horrific,” Alsadi said. “Our rights to decide whether or not we will continue to carry a pregnancy must be left up to each individual.”  

Republicans on the panel tried and failed to alter the bill to require second or third term abortions to be performed in a hospital, limit abortions to the first and second trimester and set a criminal penalty for performing a partial birth abortion.

A person holds a sign in favor of abortion
Abortion rights activists protested in Minneapolis on June 24, 2022, the day that Roe v. Wade was turned over in U.S. Half a year later Minnesota lawmakers are looking to enshrine protection to abortion.
Tim Evans for MPR News

The committee approved the original bill by a 11-8 party line vote and sent it to the Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said the measure goes too far.

“It seems clear from the conversation today that my Democrat colleagues are not even willing to make concessions on the most extreme situations,” Neu Brindley said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, in 2021 no abortions were reported to occur after 30 weeks. One occurred from 25-30 weeks with close to 7,000 being performed at nine weeks or less, for a total of 10,136. One thousand were out-of-state abortion seekers.