In the two weeks since Texas enacted a law considered the most restrictive abortion ban in nearly half a century, providers and advocates are gearing up to get out ahead of any new barriers that might emerge in Minnesota.
Though Minnesota has long been considered a "safe" state when it comes to abortion rights, with constitutional protection for the procedure and fewer restrictions than neighboring states, abortion rights supporters say Minnesotans shouldn't take those protections for granted.
"We're always in a battle around protection of abortion access," Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said in an interview the day after the Texas ban went into effect. "You look across the country — every state is one election cycle away from potentially serious and extreme restrictions, just like the one in Texas. And Minnesota is no different."
On the State Capitol lawn in St. Paul on Monday, more than 100 people attended an abortion rights rally, carrying signs that said "Keep Abortion Legal" and "Bans off our bodies."
"It just feels so wrong and violating that I even have to fight for this," said Jillian Magnusson, 38, who was at the rally. "I don't know how to explain this to my daughter."
The Texas law, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed in May, outlaws abortion at a stage of pregnancy when many women do not yet know they are pregnant, makes no exceptions for rape or incest, and outsources enforcement to private citizens. The law took effect Sept. 1. After the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision that night not to block the law, leaders in other states began signaling their intent to enact similar rules.
Minnesota opponents of abortion have expressed support for the expanding restrictions.
"Abortion is one of our nation's biggest tragedies," U.S. Rep. Michelle Fischbach, R-Minn. — whose husband, Scott Fischbach, leads Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said on Twitter on Sept. 3. "But this week's [U.S. Supreme Court] decision allowing the Texas Heartbeat Act to remain in effect — protecting unborn children from abortion after a heartbeat is detected — is incredibly encouraging, and I am optimistic."
In Minnesota, abortion is protected under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Gomez. But there are still restrictions, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandated counseling and a requirement that minors notify both parents.
Bills aiming to either expand or restrict abortion and other reproductive health care access have routinely been introduced at the State Capitol in recent years but have generally failed to gain traction in the divided Legislature.
In 2019, a measure banning most abortions 20 weeks after fertilization — with authors including Sens. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, and Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, now both candidates for governor — did not move forward after House Speaker Melissa Hortman declined to hold hearings on bills that further restricted abortion.
That same year, the legal and policy advocacy organization Gender Justice sued the state on behalf of a group of plaintiffs over existing abortion restrictions. The organization also conducted a statewide survey of registered voters that found 96% could not name one of those restrictions. Respondents also tended to overestimate the number of health centers in the state that provide abortions.
"Minnesota understands itself to be a leader, specifically in health care," said Erin Maye Quade, Gender Justice advocacy director and campaign manager for UnRestrict Minnesota, which organized the rally Monday.
Gender Justice already had plans to ramp up its work as Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban goes before the U.S. Supreme Court this fall, Maye Quade said. The court's decision on the Texas ban accelerated those plans, which include further demonstrations and "a huge presence at the Legislature."
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509