Minnesota House passes abortion shield bill to protect women from out-of-state bans

By: - March 20, 2023 5:01 pm

Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis, speaks in support of a bill she authored to protect out-of-state abortion patients in Minnesota during a news conference on March 20, 2023. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

The Minnesota House passed a bill 68-62 on Monday that would shield women who travel to the state for abortions, as well as their nurses and doctors. It still needs approval from the state Senate and the signature of Gov. Tim Walz to become law.

The “Reproductive Freedom Defense Act” (HF355/SF165) aims to block other states’ abortion restrictions from reaching into Minnesota’s borders by prohibiting state courts, law enforcement and health care providers from cooperating with authorities outside the state.

“(This bill) protects patients and providers from the chilling effects and legal attacks we’re seeing from around the country,” said Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis.

Agbaje said the draconian anti-abortion laws passed in many Republican-controlled states since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision has raised the specter that medical providers and patients could face legal repercussions for abortions even in states where it is legal.

Laws like Texas’ six-week ban that allows everyday citizens to bring legal action against people who get abortions, their health care providers and anyone who helps them.

Republicans called the shield bill “blatantly unconstitutional” and pointed out that the attorney general said the state will likely face legal challenges.

“This is an extreme bill that disregards the priority of the rule of law in exchange for ensuring only the lives of wanted children are allowed to happen,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

Under the bill, reproductive health records cannot be released to prosecutors or investigators in other states without the patient’s consent — even if subpoenaed by a court in another state.

The bill prohibits Minnesota judges from issuing warrants and law enforcement from making arrests of people charged with crimes in other state’s for accessing reproductive health care in Minnesota. The governor may not extradite a person charged with a crime involving reproductive health care, either.

The bill also prohibits the Board of Medical Practice and Board of Nursing from disciplining or refusing to grant licenses to doctors and nurses who provide reproductive health care services that are legal in Minnesota. The provision also extends to doctors and nurses seeking licensure in Minnesota who were convicted or disciplined in another state for providing abortions or other reproductive health care services.

If passed, Minnesota would follow New York, which passed laws shielding out-of-state abortion patients in 2022.

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, says since the Dobbs decision she has begun regularly seeing patients from far-flung states like Texas, Oklahoma, Wyoming and Louisiana.

“We need to pass HF366 … so that patients and providers know that their autonomous and expert medical decisions are protected in the state of Minnesota,” Traxler said during a news conference ahead of the floor vote.

Only patients who receive abortions in Minnesota would be protected.

While medication used to induce abortions — now the most common abortion method — can be prescribed virtually, Traxler said Planned Parenthood North Central States is not mailing abortion pills across state lines.

She said telehealth appointments are considered to be conducted in the state where the patient is located. Therefore, medical professionals in Minnesota would be breaking the law if they provide reproductive care to patients in states where it’s banned.

The shield law is just one of several abortion bills Democrats have advanced since taking control of the Legislature this year. In January, Walz signed the “Protect Reproductive Options” Act, which states that all Minnesotans have a fundamental right to reproductive health care.

The Legislature is also considering a bill (HF91/SF70) that would repeal all restrictions on abortions — including those which were ruled unconstitutional by a judge last year — and a bill (HF289/SF336) that aims to block state grants to so-called crisis pregnancy centers that try to discourage women from getting abortions.

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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.