Right to abortion passes Minnesota House, heads to Senate

By: - January 19, 2023 8:03 pm

Demonstrators gathered at the state Capitol Thursday as the House debated the PRO Act, which would enshrine in law a right to an abortion. The bill passed but still needs Senate approval. Photo by Grace Deng/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota House passed a bill that would codify the right to an abortion into state law Thursday over Republican opposition, bringing Democrats a step closer to fulfilling a campaign promise. 

The bill, known as the PRO Act, establishes that Minnesotans have a “fundamental right to make autonomous decisions” about their reproductive health care — including but not limited to abortion, contraception, sterilization, maternity care and fertility services. 

“Not every positive pregnancy test is a celebration, and not every ultrasound appointment ends with good news — and I, as a politician, have no business making that decision for someone else,” said chief author of the bill Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie.

The bill passed 69-65 and goes to the Senate, where Democrats hold a 34-33 majority.

Minnesota has a longstanding state Supreme Court precedent called Doe v. Gomez that guarantees abortion rights, but the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court showed that court precedents are insufficient to protect rights on fiercely contested grounds like abortion.  

“I felt like I became a second class citizen in my country overnight,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. “If you don’t have bodily autonomy, you don’t have anything else.” 

Voters motivated by the abortion issue likely helped the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party take full control of the Legislature for the first time in a decade, and Democratic lawmakers have moved swiftly — especially by the standards of the Legislature — to make good on their promise during the session’s third week. 

The bill is shorter than a page and doesn’t include any restrictions on when abortions can be performed, leaving those decisions to people and their health care providers. Republicans said the bill had no “guardrails,” and that even abortion rights voters do not support abortions in the third trimester. 

“Minnesotans, your voices were not heard by the majority party. We do not want the title of the most extreme state on abortion laws,” said Rep. Pam Altendorf, R-Red Wing. 

Anti-abortion lawmakers invoked graphic imagery of abortions later in pregnancy and said those procedures, if done to a baby outside of the womb, would be considered aggravated murder. 

“There has to be a point where some humanity kicks in for us. There has to be a point where we can all look around and say this — this is particularly disturbing,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch.

Abortions at or after 21 weeks comprise just 1% of all abortions in the United States. 

People seek abortions later in pregnancy for medical reasons, endangerment of the pregnant person or barriers to care which prevent someone from obtaining an abortion earlier. 

DFL legislators struck down Republican amendments to regulate abortion facilities, allow local governments to restrict abortion, ban abortions later in pregnancy and protect children who are born after a failed abortion. Minnesota tracks how many babies are born alive after a failed abortion each year. In 2021, there were five. None survived. 

Earlier Thursday, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra was in Minnesota for an event with Gov. Tim Walz and DFL lawmakers and called the Biden administration “partners in this fight” for the right to abortion. While GOP lawmakers are blocking a bill to protect abortion rights in the U.S. Senate, Becerra said the Biden administration will continue to provide medication abortion — known as the “abortion pill” — and are using the courts to fight anti-abortion state policies. 

“It’s time to follow Minnesotans and do what’s right for all Americans,” Becerra said. 

For now, Minnesota has become a refuge for people seeking abortions. Planned Parenthood North Central States has seen a 13% increase in out-of-state patients and a 40% increase in second-trimester abortions, the organization’s representative said at a previous House hearing on the PRO Act. 

Walz said he’ll sign the bill if it passes the Senate. “My message to our friends outside of Minnesota, especially in the upper Midwest: You are welcome here.”

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, said she was confident she has the votes in the Senate to pass the PRO Act. If it passes the Senate, it would go into effect as soon as Walz signs it into law. 

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Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng is a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They're in their final year at Northwestern University, where they study journalism, legal studies and Asian American Studies. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.