Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Mark down June 24, 2022, as the day women lost one of their most basic protections as Americans: the right to control their bodies.
For nearly 50 years, those with unwanted pregnancies, those impregnated against their will as the result of rape or incest, or those whose own mental or physical health was threatened by continuing a pregnancy had the constitutional right — no matter which state they lived in — to make their own decisions.
No more. Conservative Supreme Court justices have decided to drag this country back half a century, to a time when a woman's pregnancy — wanted or not — could alter the course of her life and sometimes end it if she was desperate enough to seek out an illegal, back-alley abortion.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has long supported a woman's right to choose. Unlike the current court majority, we view control over one's body as a fundamental right.
U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, a Minnesota Democrat and a former Planned Parenthood leader, told an editorial writer on Friday that the ruling was "extreme and radical and completely out of touch with what most Americans want." Smith said that Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the opinion, "is saying that according to the Constitution, the concept of women's freedom and autonomy should be frozen in time, back to when women were their husbands' property, with few rights of their own." The decision, she said, "is one that affects everybody ... women, their partners, their families."
In anticipation of the ruling, Smith introduced a bill that would codify legal access to medicated abortions in accordance with current Food and Drug Administration guidelines. "It's safe and effective for the first 11 weeks," she said. "No invasive ultrasounds, and the medication comes through the mail." She noted that more than 90% of abortions occur in the first trimester. Smith said that the Senate lacks 60 votes for abortion rights, "but this bill has great power to expand awareness and overcome the disinformation that's being put out."
Thankfully, for now, little will change in Minnesota. Rights here are protected by the 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that the Minnesota Constitution provides the right to abortion. We also have a governor, attorney general and House speaker who have pledged to defend that right.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison went further and said he would legally defend travelers from other states who end up facing prosecution in their states from an abortion obtained here. We support that strong, unwavering commitment to women's reproductive rights.
"No one who travels from another state to seek an abortion that's legal in Minnesota is going to be prosecuted," Ellison said. "I will directly intervene to stop any such prosecution events."
And Gov. Tim Walz told an editorial writer on Friday that he is considering executive orders to help protect those who travel to Minnesota from elsewhere to obtain an abortion, as well as those who help them. This would include, he said, a refusal to extradite.
Even if Minnesota remains a safe haven, women here will find themselves competing for resources. "We're already seeing a surge from other states," Smith said. "That will have an impact on Minnesota women seeking reproductive care. There will be great need and fewer places than ever to meet that need."
Safe, legal abortions have been established as a human right by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and People's Rights. As far back as 1994, some 179 governments worldwide offered their commitment to preventing unsafe abortions.
It is estimated that half of America's states will soon have near-total bans on abortion, either through existing legislation or so-called trigger laws designed to take effect upon a court ruling. They'll join the minority of mainly developing nations that seek to restrict this basic right severely.
And the U.S. Supreme Court ruling could soon be followed by further erosions of rights Americans have come to take for granted. Alito stated in his ruling that nothing in the decision "should be understood to cast doubt on precedents that do not concern abortion." Not so for Justice Clarence Thomas, who in a concurring opinion signaled that the rationale used in this case not just could be but should be used to overturn rights to contraception, same-sex marriage and same-sex relations.
The path for this court is becoming clear, and it's frightening.
In a poignant dissent, Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer ended on this note: "With sorrow — for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection — we dissent."
This action by the court will not end abortion. We all know that. It will force many desperate women to go to great lengths to obtain a legal or illegal abortion. Others will be forced by their states to carry pregnancies to term. That is not freedom.
Minnesotans will have to become more engaged than ever to fight for the right to make some of the most personal decisions of their lives.