Minnesota has enshrined language into law guaranteeing the right to abortion for the first time in the state's 165-year history.
The law, known as the Protect Reproductive Options Act — PRO Act for short — was signed by Gov. Tim Walz Tuesday and went into effect immediately.
The fast-tracked legislation is the first in a series of proposals pushed by DFL-led government following the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade last June. Together, the bills would represent a substantial shift in what Minnesota's laws say about abortion.
The proposals face strong opposition from Republican legislators in the minority, who have pushed to add some regulations to the procedure in the third trimester.
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the PRO Act, several other abortion bills moving at the Capitol and what they'd mean for abortion access in Minnesota:
What is Minnesota's current landscape for abortion access?
Minnesota has eight in-person abortion clinics and is one of the few states in the region that can take on patients since Roe's reversal. That's because in 1995, Minnesota's Supreme Court issued its own ruling affirming a constitutional right to privacy around decisions about abortion, similar to Roe. The state decision went a step further, allowing low-income women to use the state's Medical Assistance program to cover the costs of the procedure.
In July, a Ramsey County judge also struck down a handful of abortion regulations in state law, including a 24-hour waiting period, an informed consent requirement and two-parent notification for minors.
If there are already protections through the courts, why are Democrats moving to codify the right to abortion in law?
Minnesota Democrats say the reversal of Roe shows how judicial precedent can be undone by future judges. The PRO Act adds the right to abortion to state law as well, stating that every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right "to continue the pregnancy and give birth, or obtain an abortion," according to the bill's language.
The legislation also protects rights to contraception, sterilization, family planning and counseling, while prohibiting local governments from enacting their own ordinances to restrict access to abortion.
Couldn't a future governor and Legislature change the law?
Yes. Opponents of the bill could take control of the governor's office and both houses of the Minnesota Legislature and move to repeal that law in the future. That's why some DFL lawmakers have said they'd support asking voters if they want to also amend the state Constitution to add abortion protections. Because Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature, they could put an abortion-related amendment on the ballot in 2024 with a simple majority vote. No constitutional amendments have been introduced at the Capitol yet.
What do opponents say about the new law?
Abortion opponents say the PRO Act is extreme and would make Minnesota an outlier because it doesn't include restrictions on abortions at any point in pregnancy. Republicans in the Legislature unsuccessfully tried to amend the bill to add restrictions on third-trimester abortions, with exceptions for rape and incest and when the life of the mother is in danger. They also tried to require that abortions in the third trimester be performed in a hospital.
Does Minnesota currently have any restrictions on abortions after a certain point?
This is another example of a court ruling shaping abortion access in the state. In 1974, Minnesota legislators passed a law to prohibit most abortions after the point where a fetus could survive outside of the womb, adding that a fetus halfway through gestation (roughly 20 weeks) was potentially viable. That was much earlier than the 24- to 28-week viability standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe one year earlier, so a federal court struck down the statute. Attorneys on both sides of the debate don't believe that law is in effect.
Are abortions after fetal viability common in Minnesota?
No. According to the Minnesota Department of Health's annual report, 9,145 of the 10,136 abortions that occurred in 2021 were during the first trimester of pregnancy. There were 159 abortions reported between 21 and 24 weeks, and one between 25 and 30 weeks. There were no abortions in the state reported after that point. Several providers who have spoken about the bill said abortions that happen after fetal viability are rare situations where the pregnancy was wanted but serious complications occurred.
What happens to Minnesota's abortion laws that were struck down by the courts?
They have stayed on the books over the years, even if they aren't in effect. Democrats are pushing a bill to repeal a number of those laws, including the 24-hour waiting period, parental notification requirements for minors and informed consent laws. The bill would also eliminate the fetal viability language that was struck down back in the 1970s.
Democrats argue keeping the laws on the books sows confusion for providers and could have a chilling affect on people seeing abortions. Opponents have criticized the proposal for going further than what's been acted on by the courts.
What other abortion-related proposals are Democrats proposing this year?
Democrats are also moving to restrict state grants for crisis pregnancy centers, which are nonprofits created by abortion opponents that try to dissuade women from ending their pregnancies. Another proposal aims to protect people and providers from legal action if they travel to Minnesota to seek an abortion. It would do that by making patient data private when it comes to abortion, while also restricting subpoenas and extradition orders from other states where the procedure is banned.
Are Republican legislators pushing their own bills?
Republicans have proposed to prohibit the use of state-sponsored health care programs to pay for abortions.
Are any of these other proposals expected to pass?
Republican priorities on abortion are unlikely to get far in the DFL-controlled Legislature, but the other proposals from Democrats have been introduced in both chambers and some have already had hearings at the Capitol. The Reproductive Freedom Caucus, which includes members in both chambers, said they are pushing for the full slate of bills to pass this session.