‘Not negotiable’: DFL lawmakers roll out reproductive rights agenda

Person stands at podium surrounded by others
Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, joined members of the Minnesota Reproductive Freedom Caucus for a news conference at the Capitol on Friday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Legislators calling themselves the Minnesota Reproductive Freedom Caucus outlined their priorities Friday for the 2023 legislative session, including guaranteeing the right to abortion, defending people who come to Minnesota from other states seeking abortions, and removing abortion restrictions from state statutes.

Days before the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, the group of dozens of DFL lawmakers said they were committed to ensuring and expanding the right to abortion in Minnesota.

They also said the state should adopt other policies that support parents and families and allow Minnesotans to express their gender freedom.

After Minnesota voters gave the DFL majority control at the Capitol, the caucus said it felt mandated to affirm existing abortion rights and to add more protections for patients and providers.

“We will not leave this session without completing this work,” Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said. “We are talking about autonomy. We're talking about human rights, we are talking about private medical decisions. Those are not negotiable.”

One of the landmark pieces of the caucus’ agenda, the Protect Reproductive Options Act, passed the Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday night after an emotional and, at times, personal debate. It moves next to the Senate for a vote, and Gov. Tim Walz has said he will sign it into law.

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That proposal cements the right to an abortion in state law and also guarantees the right to birth control, family planning help and sterilization. The state Constitution already grants the right to end a pregnancy in Minnesota, per a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling.

DFL lawmakers say that decision is important, but the state should do more to ensure Minnesotans maintain that option. 

And as an island in the region in terms of legally being able to provide abortion, providers said the Legislature should go a step further to ensure that Minnesotans and others can obtain care here.

Dr. Sarah Traxler is Chief Medical Officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States. Under the current patchwork of laws around abortion in the region, patients and providers have a hard time making sense of things, Traxler said. She urged policymakers to pass a bill that could make the state a “national leader for reproductive freedom and equity.”

“We need to repeal all the unconstitutional and antiquated laws that are currently on the books and pass legislation, the reproductive freedom codification act, that protects patients that traveled to Minnesota to receive care and protects the providers, my colleagues and me, who provide that care,” Traxler said.

The caucus said members were working with legislative leaders to quickly pass those measures. And they said they would also spearhead proposals to create a state paid family and medical leave program, require comprehensive sex education in schools, and use grant money to help low-income and out-of-state patients pay for abortion services.

Combined, the proposals would make Minnesota a “beacon of compassion and care so that every Minnesota can get the care that they need,” said Sen. Erin Maye Quade, an Apple Valley Democrat.

So far, the bills have faced pushback from Republicans and anti-abortion groups that have said the measures go too far.

“I think the unfortunate thing though, is when we win or lose elections, we sort of extrapolate meaning that might not be there,” Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said Thursday. “While Democrats won a close election here in the state, they do not have a mandate for this.”

Paul Stark, Minnesotans Concerned for Life, said his group is working to raise awareness about the abortion bills and to “urge everyone to contact their lawmakers so that the bills will not become law.”

As part of its policy rollout, the Reproductive Freedom Caucus said it would also put forward plans to make Minnesota a safe haven for transgender families, ban conversion therapy and ensure access to gender-affirming care.

Other states have banned gender-affirming care for youth. And ahead of any action from the courts restricting access to services, Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, said Minnesota should act now.

“We have the ability to do this work preemptively,” Finke said. “This is the moment that we have to protect our communities.”