Abortion opponents say they’ll work to roll back Minnesota law changes

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates gather at the Capitol
An anti-abortion advocate holds up a crucifix at the Minnesota State Capitol building during the Minnesota Senate debate on the PRO Act on Jan. 27.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

This is part four of a five-part series from MPR News examining the state of abortion in Minnesota one year after Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Lynesha Caron is trying to figure out how to balance the books with a quarter of her annual budget gone.

Caron is executive director at Pregnancy Choices in Apple Valley, one of dozens of “crisis pregnancy centers” around the state that works with Minnesotans facing unplanned pregnancies. They don’t provide abortions, nor do they refer clients for abortion services. Instead, they offer pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, counseling and parenting classes.

As part of a broader push to ensure the right to abortion and prune laws that restricted access, the DFL-led Legislature cut $3 million in funding to such groups. There are nearly 100 centers in the state and about a third of them were receiving state funding. Now they’re preparing to take a budget hit without the state money.

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“Without that funding, we're really challenged to think how we're going to continue to provide such robust wraparound care for our clients,” Caron said. “It's just disheartening in a way that that was kind of politicized to the detriment of the women that we all serve.”

People hold signs that read I am human at a rally
Pro-Life Action Ministries held a rally in St. Paul on June 24, 2022 to celebrate the end of Roe v. Wade in the United States.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

The centers’ directors and some of their clients say they offer an invaluable service that helps people choose between adoption, abortion and parenting. Meanwhile, abortion providers and abortion access advocates say Minnesotans have been misled by the centers and coerced out of abortion.

“So, stopping the funding, I think, is an important first step. And then we can figure out, what does it mean for these organizations, institutions to continue to exist, and what kind of regulation is needed in order for them to provide medically accurate information to patients?” Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-Saint Paul, said. Her co-chairs the Reproductive Freedom Caucus at the Capitol.

Her said she turned to a center in her 20s and staff there advised her that she could safely carry a pregnancy to term though it was growing outside the uterus.

She later went to an abortion provider and opted to terminate the pregnancy when physicians warned it could pose a danger to her health. The state should focus funding on providers who offer medically accurate information, Her said.

“When you go to an institution that is supposed to provide you or help you with options, or help you understand the situation that you're in, and they give you wrong information, it could be detrimental to your health,” she said.

People speak during a large rally outside.
Rep. Kaohly Vang Her shares her personal experience with abortion as a testimony to the risk women and people with uteruses face during an abortion rights march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on July 17.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Her and other DFL lawmakers say the move to cut the centers’ funding, cement abortion rights in state law and gut abortion restrictions came at the behest of voters who realized the role the state could play after Roe v Wade was reversed.

“Minnesotans are saying, ‘We see now what we didn't know before. And we want to ensure that people have the rights to make decisions for themselves,’” Her said.

Anti-abortion groups said the changes dealt them a blow. And now, they’ll work to roll them back.

A person speaks during a rally
Renee Carlson, an attorney with True North Legal speaks during a rally at the Minnesota State Capitol on April 4.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

“The complete radical and extreme out-of-step action of this Legislature is activating Minnesotans at a level we probably haven't seen in quite a while,” said Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Co-Executive Director Cathy Blaeser. “We are receiving phone calls, and we are receiving emails from people who want to be involved who are just abhorrent of what the Legislature did this past session.”

Anti-abortion groups agreed that abortion was a key issue on voters’ minds when they cast their ballots in favor of abortion access candidates last year. But most Minnesotans didn’t sign up for the changes that lawmakers approved this year, said Renee Carlson, an attorney with the conservative firm True North Legal.

“I can tell you that many Minnesotans are concerned about the wellbeing and safety of their sisters and their daughters with nearly every single regulation on abortion in Minnesota gone,” Carlson said.

Pamphlets about abortion-3
Pamphlets published by Pro-Life Action Ministries that anti-abortion advocates hand out.
Sam Stroozas | MPR News

Now, the groups are hoping to mobilize Minnesotans to demand lawmakers restore some of the older laws or face reelection losses.

“It's just about talking to people and letting them know what this Legislature did and how out of step it is with Minnesotans’ desires for abortion law,” Blaeser said.

Nationally, public polls suggest that support for legal abortion access has grown over time. Sixty-two percent of Americans surveyed for a Pew Research Center poll in April said abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 

Abortion access groups said they’re confident that most Minnesotans support efforts to drop legal hurdles to access. But abortion opponents said they’re not convinced that those figures take into account the nuance around abortion. They pointed to an NPR poll that suggests a majority of Americans oppose abortions after the first trimester.

Minnesota lawmakers return for the 2024 session in February. All 134 seats in the Minnesota House will be on the ballot next November.

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates gather at the Capitol
A mother and son pray the rosary at the Minnesota State Capitol on Jan 27.
Nicole Neri for MPR News