Right to abortion bill clears first hurdle in Minnesota House

By: - January 5, 2023 1:48 pm

Photo courtesy of Minnesota House of Representatives Public Information Services .

A bill that explicitly establishes the right to an abortion in Minnesota law cleared its first hurdle on Thursday over Republican objections.

The House Health Finance and Policy Committee passed the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act along a party-line vote after hearing emotional testimony from pro- and anti-abortion advocates.

DFL legislative leaders have made passing legislation to ensure the right to abortion a top priority, labeling it bill number one (HF1) in both chambers.

“This past election, voters spoke decisively. They told us that they believe every Minnesota should be able to make their own reproductive health care decisions,” said the PRO Act’s chief author Rep. Carlie Kotzya-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie.

Abortion is already legal in Minnesota under a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision that a person’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is protected by the right of privacy. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the federal right to an abortion under Roe v. Wade, however, has revived a nationwide fight by Democrats to codify reproductive freedom into law.

The PRO Act states every person has “a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health” including abortion and contraception. The bill contains just a handful of provisions and doesn’t include any restrictions on when or how abortions must be performed, leaving those decisions to individuals and health care providers.

Republicans offered amendments that would ban abortions late in pregnancy and require abortions in the second and third trimesters to be conducted in hospitals, but those efforts failed to win the necessary support from Democrats.

The push to establish the right to abortion in state law comes as neighboring states have enacted severe restrictions on abortion following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe. That’s led to an uptick in patients seeking care in Minnesota.

Planned Parenthood of the North Central States has seen a 13% increase in out-of-state patients and a 40% increase in second-trimester abortions, said the organization’s chief medical officer, Sarah Traxler.

“Minnesota’s abortion access is critical right now, for Minnesotans and for people across the country,” Traxler said.

The PRO Act would ban local governments from restricting reproductive health care and also establishes a right to contraception, sterilization, maternity care and fertility services.

Anti-abortion advocates claimed the bill would increase suicides and be detrimental to mental health, which is not supported by evidence, and expressed concern that the bill would allow minors to receive an abortion without parental consent, which is already legal in Minnesota.

“If you vote for this bill, you vote for a school counselor to be able to take a student to an abortion clinic without her parents ever knowing,” said former state representative Tim Miller, who is now the executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries. “You’ll allow predators and traffickers to cover their tracks.”

Medical experts say requiring parental consent delays medical care and increases teenage birth rates.

The bill has several more committee stops before moving to the House for a full vote. The PRO Act would go into effect as soon as the state Senate passes the bill and Gov. Tim Walz signs it into law.

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.