Abortion bill set for a vote this week, other DFL wish list items to follow

Published 8:58 pm Monday, January 16, 2023

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By Dana Ferguson, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesota lawmakers this week are expected to vote on a proposal to enshrine in law the right to an abortion, possibly teeing up the bill to be signed on Jan. 22 — the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

After fast tracking the measure through committees in the first two weeks of session, the measure is set to come up for a vote on the House floor this week, with a Senate vote expected to follow shortly thereafter.

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The proposal, known as the Protect Reproductive Options or PRO Act, was the first bill filed in both chambers. And legislative leaders said they’re moving quickly on the bill to show Minnesotans that the issue of reproductive health freedom is important to the DFL.

“It is a high priority for us because we heard from Minnesotans that they want their reproductive rights protected. And we saw that message delivered loud and clear, at the level of the governor’s race and legislative races across the state,” House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, said Friday.

“We need to codify these rights that are currently only protected by the courts in statute and we know that we have the backing of the vast majority of Minnesota to do that.”

The bill would cement in law the right to an abortion — as well as other reproductive health care such as access to birth control and fertility services. The right to abortion is currently guaranteed by the state Constitution due to a 1995 state supreme court decision, but health care providers, civil liberties advocates and others said they worry that the right could be eroded under a future court.

Opponents of the bill, including religious and anti-abortion groups, said it would take the state in the wrong direction by removing any impediments to abortion.

“This is too much, too far, overreaching, and this is an abomination and we have seen so many times that Republicans have been called extreme, well folks at home watching, this is very extreme,” Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said.

Gov. Tim Walz said he plans to sign the bill. The DFL governor told MPR News that even though it comes with some controversy, it follows through on his campaign promise to protect the right to an abortion.

“I do think Minnesotans expect us to get some things done. I think they expect us to be bipartisan, and to do it in a collegial manner as best we can. But we won elections very clearly,” Walz said. “And I told people, ‘as long as I’m governor, we’re going to protect reproductive rights, I’m going to get that done.’”

The measure is being debated this week along with several other DFL wishlist items. Legislative committees are set to consider plans this week that will:

  • Require businesses to let workers accrue sick and safe time
  • Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day
  • Ban what’s called conversion therapy for LGBTQ youth
  • Fund free school meals for all students
  • Strike some existing state restrictions on abortions
  • Make Juneteenth a state holiday

DFL leaders said with the House, Senate and governor’s office in their control, they felt a mandate to move Democratic bills that had stalled out under divided government.

They also want to revisit unfinished business from the last session, including passing a tax conformity bill that Walz signed last week and providing state matching funds for road and bridge projects funded by the federal infrastructure law.

“We know that there have been many of these priorities waiting out there for too long, some of them because we were stuck in gridlock last session, some of them because we didn’t have the Senate that was willing to work with us, and some because we didn’t have the resources that we do now,” Long said. “So we’re, I think, at a really important moment in time, where we have the will, we have the means and now we’re going to act.”