After Republicans delay with lengthy debate, Senate passes bill codifying abortion rights

By: - January 27, 2023 7:03 pm

State Sen. Sen. Jennifer A. McEwen, DFL-Duluth, argues for the PRO Act, which would codify abortion rights. Also standing, Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, who offered a series of amendments to the bill, looks on. Photo via Minnesota Senate.

Update: The bill passed Saturday morning and heads to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz, who is expected to sign it.

Minnesota Senate Republicans launched an informal filibuster to prevent abortion rights from being codified into state law Friday, offering dozens of amendments and speeches that lasted well into Saturday morning. 

Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers pressed on and passed it, despite a narrow one-seat majority. They flipped the Senate in the midterm election, likely with the help of the June U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which energized advocates to codify reproductive rights into law. Abortion is currently legal in Minnesota under a longstanding state Supreme Court precedent called Doe v. Gomez. Like Roe, however, it could be overturned if the court swung in a more conservative direction. 

“Minnesotans asked us, their elected officials, to make sure that their individual autonomous rights to make their own health care decisions are protected, and that those rights wouldn’t be at the whim of some rogue future court,” said chief author of the bill Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth. 

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. The PRO Act is shorter than a page and doesn’t include any restrictions on when abortions can be performed, leaving those decisions to Minnesotans and their health care providers. 

Senate Republicans, echoing House Republicans, said the bill needs “guardrails.” 

“We are enacting the most extreme bill in the country regarding youth sterilization, late-term abortions and public liability for a vast array of new reproductive rights,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks. “This is only the first bill of a series of radical bills.”

McEwen said the bill actually enhances protections for any pregnant person to make their own decisions.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, introduced eight amendments in the first five hours of debate, which covered everything from taking the word “fundamental” out of the bill to adding ultrasounds to the list of protected reproductive healthcare. 

“Mr. President, I’m enjoying my time here. I shouldn’t even joke about it — this is an extremely serious project,” Abeler said to President of the Senate Bobby Champion after Abeler introduced his eighth amendment. 

Republicans offered fervent speeches in support of Abeler’s amendments, resulting in several reminders from Champion to maintain decorum. Anti-abortion rights lawmakers also told personal stories of pregnancy and connecting with their children before they were born, reflecting a conservative belief that life begins before birth. 

Republican legislators said the bill does not include enough protections for minors, as well as women forced into getting an abortion. 

“Ladies: This bill, without any of these amendments, should be retitled the sexual exploitation and isolation of minor girls,” said Sen. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, as he addressed his female colleagues.

“Ladies, come to your senses. Think of what you’re doing,” Gruenhagen continued, before Champion cut him off. 

None of Abeler’s amendments had passed as of Friday evening. Abeler’s office did not return a request for comment. 

Minnesota has become a refuge for people seeking abortions from states with restrictive laws. 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. 

The bill will go into effect as soon as Gov. Tim Walz signs it into law, which he has said he will do. 

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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.