Gov. Walz signs bill codifying abortion rights in Minnesota law

By: - January 31, 2023 1:00 pm

Gov. Tim Walz holds up a signed copy of the Protect Reproductive Options act during a ceremonial bill signing on Jan. 31, 2023 at the state Department of Revenue. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

With Gov. Tim Walz’s signature on Tuesday, state Democrats codified the right to abortion and reproductive health care for all residents in Minnesota law. Full stop. No exceptions.

“The message that we’re sending Minnesota today is very clear. Your rights are protected in the state. You have the right to make your own decisions about your health, your family and your life,” Walz said during a ceremonial bill signing flanked by DFL lawmakers and abortion rights activists.

Walz credited the women lawmakers who guided the law through the Legislature less than a month after the start of session, breathtaking speed by government standards.

The Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act is just a couple dozen lines long and guarantees that “every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health.”

DFL legislative leaders gave the bill — HF1/SF1 — the symbolically important numeral 1, after Democrats won a surprise trifecta after campaigning on protecting abortion rights.

Abortion is already legal under a state Supreme Court decision in Minnesota, which has become a haven for abortion access in the Midwest. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn Roe v. Wade sparked fear among abortion rights activists that a future state supreme court decision to restrict abortion in the state. Now established in state law, abortion opponents would need to control the Legislature and the governorship to reverse it.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party majorities in the House and Senate passed the bills after hearing hours of debate and rejecting a flurry of amendments from Republicans, who sought to curtail a law they say is too broad and out-of-line with majority opinion.

“Folks are often pro-life with exceptions, or they’re pro-choice with restrictions,” Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said. “This bill is pretty far afield of where the vast majority of Minnesotans are on the issue of abortion.”

Seventy-one percent of Americans think abortion should either be mostly legal with some restrictions or mostly illegal with some exceptions, while 19% think abortion should be legal in all cases with no exceptions, according to the Pew Research Center.

Neu Brindley proposed an amendment to restrict abortion beyond 24 weeks to cases in which the health of the mother is endangered. Democrats rejected the proposal, pointing out that abortions later in pregnancy are virtually always out of medical necessity.

“Fundamentally, this legislation is about who decides,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, during Tuesday’s news conference. “This decision has to reside with the individual … It can’t be decided by politicians. It can’t be decided by judges.”

Abortions later in pregnancy are extremely rare, though they do happen. Of the 10,018 abortions performed in Minnesota in 2021, just one occurred in the third trimester. The vast majority — 91% — occurred in the first 13 weeks of pregnancy, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health. (The gestational timing of 118 abortions were not reported).

Democrats are also pushing forward a separate bill that would strike a slew of regulations from the law books, though they were already ruled unconstitutional by a Ramsey County judge last year. Hortman said she expects that bill to be brought to the House floor by mid-February.

They include requirements that health care providers notify the parents of minors seeking abortions and warn people seeking abortions of dubious medical risks 24-hours before the procedure, such as a heightened risk of breast cancer, which is not supported by the scientific consensus.

The bill would also repeal the requirements that abortions after the first trimester be performed in a hospital or abortion facility, and that abortions after viability — about 24 weeks — be performed in a hospital and only in order to save the life of the mother.

On the campaign trail, Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen said Walz supported abortion “up-to-the-moment-of-birth.” Walz, through a spokesperson, denied the claim at the time. He said he supported “maintaining the timelines outlined by current law.”

Republicans accused Walz of misleading voters on his position. Asked about the accusation, Walz rejected the idea that the law goes further than what was already allowed under Minnesota law.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.