Minnesota Senate votes to guarantee abortion rights, sends bill to governor
Published 3:47 pm Saturday, January 28, 2023
By Dana Ferguson, Minnesota Public Radio News
A measure guaranteeing the right to an abortion — and other reproductive health care — is on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature after the Minnesota Senate voted 34-33 to pass it on early Saturday morning.
During a long and at times contentious debate that started around noon on Friday, the Senate rejected multiple Republican efforts to amend the bill. In the end, all Democrats in the chamber voted for the bill while all Republicans voted against it. The debate lasted for 15 hours.
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The proposal, known as the Protect Reproductive Options or PRO Act, has been a top priority for Democrats at the Capitol. It would cement in state law the right to access reproductive health care options including abortion, birth control, family planning help and sterilization. And it has spurred strong support as well as harsh criticism on its path through the Legislature.
Gov. Tim Walz, a second-term Democrat, has said he will sign it into law.
Supporters said the bill was critical because it would ensure that people could access abortion services in Minnesota, even if a future court reverses the current rule on the ground that guarantees abortion access.
“The decisions of our courts, the upholding of our fundamental human rights, are only as strong as the judges that uphold them,” the bill’s author Sen. Jennifer McEwen, DFL-Duluth, said.
“We have a duty to answer the call of Minnesotans to truly protect those reproductive freedoms, to enshrine them not simply in case law, but in our statutory law,” McEwen continued. “These are our values, this is the practice in Minnesota. This is what we believe.”
Opponents raised concerns about enshrining abortion access in state law, since it is already guaranteed by a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling. Republicans repeatedly called the bill “extreme” as they tried to attach restrictions and limits to the reproductive rights outlined in the bill. And they worried that the proposal would result in adverse situations for patients.
“Today we are not just codifying Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Gomez as the author has indicated,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said. “We are enacting the most extreme bill in the country regarding youth sterilization, late term abortions and public viability for a vast array of new reproductive rights.”
Abortions are extremely rare in the late stages of pregnancy, and doctors say if they do happen it’s because of serious medical problems.
Supporters of the bill argued that it keeps politicians out of decisions that should be made by families in consultation with physicians.
“What the PRO Act does say is that politicians — any politician —has no right to take their ethical decisions and values and to decide for you that you also will have to abide by that politician’s personal beliefs and values,” McEwen said.
Dozens of supporters and opponents of the bill gathered outside the Senate chamber on Friday to try to sway lawmakers on their way in.
Bill supporters cheered “not your body, not your choice” and lifted signs that said, “Abortion is health care.” Opponents, meanwhile, say hymns, prayed that the bill would fail and held up signs depicting a fetus that said, “abortion kills a human life.”
A group of physicians who supported the bill held a news conference before the debate began.
“Our new abortion landscape since the Dobbs decision is difficult, and it’s dangerous. It puts our patients at severe risk,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, the chief medical officer at Planned Parenthood North Central States. “Minnesotans and all people who travel here for care need to know abortion access isn’t going away just because political winds change or an ideological judge overturns precedent.”
Among the abortion opponents who gathered at the Capitol was Yen Yen McSherry of West St. Paul.
“This is a threat to a life, which you have, which I have, which my children have,” McSherry said of the legislation. “This isn’t just a threat to rights. It’s a threat to life.”
When the PRO Act becomes law, Minnesota will be the 16th state to explicitly protect the right to an abortion in state law or a state’s constitution. And it would join Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon and Vermont in providing abortion access without a limit on viability.
California, Vermont and Washington also guarantee the right to a broader spectrum of reproductive health care options.