Minnesota House approves protections for out-of-state abortion restrictions
Some states, including Iowa, are considering legislation inspired by the Texas six-week abortion ban that would allow private individuals to sue people who seek abortions.
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House on Monday, March 20, approved the “Reproductive Freedom Defense Act,” a bill that would protect people who get abortions in the state from legal action from other states where the procedure is illegal.
Following the end of federal abortion protections last summer when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many Republican-controlled states moved to place new restrictions on abortion. Some states, including Iowa, are considering legislation inspired by the Texas six-week abortion ban that allows private individuals to sue people who seek abortions.
At a news conference ahead of the House vote, Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers backing the bill said the state needs to act before challenges to abortions in Minnesota from other states become a reality.
“As Minnesotans, we cannot stand idly by,” said House sponsor Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis. “There is a chilling effect on providers about the type of health care they can provide and whether they will be prosecuted for giving patients the reproductive health care that they need.”
If the bill became law, it would prohibit Minnesota courts from enforcing or satisfying a civil judgment from another state against someone who gets an abortion or anyone involved in an abortion. It would also protect against criminal prosecution.
Members of the House voted 68-62 on Monday afternoon to approve the bill after about an hour of debate. Republicans raised concerns that the law would harm the "rule of law" because it would get in the way of other states taking action on their abortion restrictions.
"Abortion is already legal in the state of Minnesota. This bill does not change that," said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. "All it does is say that criminals in another state, you can just come to Minnesota, we'll take you."
Minnesota has become a virtual island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest. Abortion is now illegal in almost all cases in Wisconsin and South Dakota. North Dakota had a near-total ban “trigger law” tied to the end of Roe, but a judge blocked it and the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week that the ban can not be enforced.
Abortion remains legal in Iowa, though that state’s supreme court nullified a constitutional right to abortion in 2022, clearing the path for Republicans to pursue further restrictions.
It's only going to get worse as we see more states introduce Texas-style aid-and-abet laws.
With Minnesota a haven for abortion, Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood North Central States and an OB-GYN, said she has seen more patients from states outside the region.
“I'd often care for patients from nearby states like the Dakotas or Wisconsin, but now for the first time ever, I regularly care for patients from Texas, Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana and the list goes on and on,” she said. “It's only going to get worse as we see more states introduce Texas-style aid-and-abet laws.”
While the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez ensures a constitutional right to abortion, DFLers said they didn’t want to take protections for granted.
The “Reproductive Freedom Defense Act” passed by the House on Monday is yet another DFL bill aimed at bolstering protections for abortion access. DFL lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz vowed to protect access to abortion in Minnesota after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
DFLers won complete control of state government in the November election and have moved swiftly to bolster abortion protections in the state. Just one month into the 2023 session, Walz signed into law the Protect Reproductive Options Act, which codified abortion protections into state law. DFL leaders say voters sent a clear message that abortion was a top issue in the election and fast-tracked that bill to the governor’s desk.
Under that law, Minnesota recognizes a right to use or refuse reproductive health care and a right to continue a pregnancy and give birth or obtain an abortion. It also prevents local governments from passing any regulations on birth control or abortion.
A Ramsey County District Judge in July tossed several Minnesota laws restricting abortion, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement for minors to notify both parents before getting the procedure. Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison, who backs abortion rights, declined to file an appeal in the case, though an independent group has challenged the ruling.
There are other DFL-backed bills moving through the Legislature that would further codify abortion access, including proposals to remove the wait period and notification requirement from state law. DFL legislative leaders have also said they'd consider voting to place a constitutional amendment on abortion on the ballot.
Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont all approved measures to create a constitutional right to abortion last year.
This story was updated at 4:57 p.m. March 20 with the House vote. It was originally posted at 4:27 p.m. March 20.
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