The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade gave finality to activists on both sides of the abortion debate in Minnesota — and set in motion the next big fight.
The court's ruling, which did away with both Roe and the later decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, gives states the power to decide whether to allow abortion. In the weeks since a leaked draft previewed the court's ruling, groups have been preparing to take their case to the ballot box in November, mobilizing to elect candidates who will either move to restrict abortion access in Minnesota or etch further protections into law.
"Abortion will be a bigger issue for many voters than it has been in modern memory," said Moses Bratrud, director of communications for the Minnesota Family Council.
The issue has always motivated core activists, but abortion could now be a defining theme of the 2022 campaign.
"There is a route to protect access to safe and legal abortions, and that is through elections," said Sarah Stoesz, the longtime CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States. "We need to act swiftly to elect leaders who will protect those rights."
Minnesota's state Supreme Court established its own constitutional right to abortion in the 1995 Doe v. Gomez ruling, so the U.S. Supreme Court's decision won't immediately change abortion access in the state. In St. Paul, abortion agendas have sat stagnant under divided government, but that could change if either side holds all the levers of power after the election.
"We believe we'll see New York-style reproductive rights legislation or a codification in law of Doe v. Gomez if we lose the House and the Senate and the governor," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "It could be devastating for us if we don't have one of those three, and of course the reverse could happen."
Democrats are worried about the opposite — GOP control of government — in a year where their party is facing stiff headwinds at the national level. All 201 seats in the Legislature are on the ballot this fall in Minnesota and first-term DFL Gov. Tim Walz is facing GOP challenger and former state Sen. Scott Jensen. While Walz has said he will defend the right to abortion in Minnesota, Jensen has said he'll work to ban abortion if elected.
"Our message to voters is simple: Although the Dobbs ruling likely won't change Minnesota's abortion laws, it will finally make it possible for Minnesotans to decide for themselves'' to what extent it should be allowed, Bratrud said.
Even with DFL control of the Minnesota House, there aren't majorities that support abortion rights in either chamber. And state Supreme Court protection isn't a panacea: In neighboring Iowa, its high court — comprising mostly Republican appointees — recently rolled back a 2018 decision protecting the right to abortion.
Abortion rights groups in Minnesota said they'll work with the new redistricting maps to endorse and back candidates they know support expanding access in the state.
"We will be talking to [voters] and drawing that very clear distinction, with what I believe will be the largest electoral program our action fund and our state PACs have ever put together," said Tim Stanley, executive director of the Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund.
Advocates for abortion rights are also emphasizing that the end of Roe could be the beginning of the end of other constitutional rights. In a concurring opinion Friday, Justice Clarence Thomas said the Supreme Court should reconsider rulings establishing rights to contraception, same-sex sexual relationships and same-sex marriage.
"It's really important for people to understand that this is just the starting point," said Erin Maye Quade, a DFL candidate for state Senate and advocacy director of Gender Justice, which is leading a lawsuit to take some of Minnesota's abortion restrictions off the books. "This is not an ending point. This is the beginning of a right-wing court that is systematically undoing rights and protections that Minnesotans and Americans have."
Democratic U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, who's trying to keep control of her swing district seat this fall, said she has no doubt "the base of the Democratic party, and the people who turned up in 2018 and helped elect a Democratic majority, will be activated as a result of this decision."
Democrats are at risk of losing their narrow holds on the U.S. House and Senate. But the court's ruling Friday could provide them a chance to draw a sharp contrast with Republicans on what has long been a wedge issue in American politics.
"Minnesotans have to choose, which path do we want to take as a country?" Craig said. "Do we want the government to mandate what you can do in your personal life? Or do we want the government to stay the hell out of that? I'm on the side of the government has no place in these decisions."
Craig's opponent, Republican Tyler Kistner, did not respond Friday to a request for comment. When Kistner was asked about the potential Supreme Court decision a day earlier, he said he is "pro-life," adding, "I think that decision should be left at the states to decide."
Minnesota has already become a destination for patients from other states, such as Texas, where abortion has been heavily restricted. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison — who is facing a re-election race — has vowed to legally defend people who face prosecution in their home states for traveling to Minnesota to get an abortion.
"If somebody comes to Minnesota, avails their self of their constitutional rights and goes back home, I will follow them there and file motions in court if somebody tries to prosecute them for getting an abortion in Minnesota," Ellison said at a Friday news conference. "I don't believe anybody would have jurisdiction in another state for what someone did in Minnesota."
Jim Schultz, Ellison's GOP-endorsed challenger who describes himself as "pro-life," said in a statement Friday that Ellison and the DFL will use the Dobbs decision "to distract Minnesotans from the disastrous policies they have enacted."
"The result of today's decision will be greater ability of citizens and their respective states to pursue commonsense policies a majority of Americans support," Schultz said.
Stoesz said she knows there are some Minnesotans who are "morally ambivalent" about abortion, but her group's message is that's all the more reason to keep it as an individual choice and not "legislate that choice" away from people.
"I am very respectful of the moral complexity that this issue presents to people," said Stoesz. "[I] ask people to also be respectful of that moral complexity and understanding that people need to work their own way through these decisions as individuals."
Staff writers Hunter Woodall and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.