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Minnesota enshrines abortion rights into law

The Democratic governor signed a bill guaranteeing a range of reproductive freedoms after extensive debate in the state Senate.

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN) — Democratic Governor Tim Walz signed a bill Tuesday guaranteeing the right to abortion in Minnesota, cementing the North Star State as an upper Midwest island for abortion access. 

“The message that we’re sending to Minnesota today is very clear: your rights are protected in this state," Walz said. "You have the right to make your own decisions about your health, your family and your life.”

The bill, dubbed the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or the PRO Act, canonizes the rights to a number of reproductive health options in state law. Abortions, contraception, sterilization and other family planning options are all protected.

It passed both houses of Minnesota’s Legislature after lengthy debate, with Republicans seeking to add dozens of amendments. All of those amendments, which sought changes such as bans on abortions in the third trimester and removal of the bill’s sterilization right, failed, but Republicans succeeded in extending debate in the Senate to nearly 15 hours on Friday before the chamber passed the bill after 2 a.m. on Saturday. 

Minnesota’s Supreme Court cemented abortion rights in the state in 1995, but Democrats have pitched the PRO Act as a backstop to judicial precedent in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of its Roe v. Wade decision last year.

“What happened to Roe could happen in Minnesota, too,” Representative Carly Kotyza-Witthuhn said of the bill she authored early in debate. 

Republicans, meanwhile, have characterized the measure as extreme.

“Abortion is not health care,” Republican Senator Jim Abeler said during debate of the bill. “Abortion is abortion.” 

The various rights to reproductive health care in the bill, Abeler added, were not contemplated by Roe. He also suggested that they would enable child sex trafficking. 

Walz’s 2022 reelection to the governor’s mansion helped cement a Democratic trifecta in the state, with the Democratic Farmer-Labor Party winning a narrow majority in the state Senate after four years of gridlock between a Republican-led Senate and Democrat-majority House. 

Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan spoke at the bill's passage, stressing that while it was a win there was more work to be done.

"So many of our sisters, our neighbors, our relatives, and our friends across the country have lost their right to make their own choices," she said. "My message to them is that you are welcome in Minnesota, and that we are not done fighting."

The PRO Act is the first big win on a long agenda for the newly empowered Democrats. Members of the Legislature’s Reproductive Freedom Caucus have also declared their intent to repeal a number of existing restrictions on abortions and to cut state funding for crisis pregnancy centers, facilities run by abortion opponents which advertise aid for pregnant women and work to dissuade them from seeking abortions. 

The caucus has also proposed a bill which would make abortion patient data private and restrict the use of subpoenas and extradition orders from states where it is banned, anticipating that the state could become a destination for abortion-seekers whose states have criminalized the procedure. 

Minnesota is unique among its neighbors for abortion access; Wisconsin and South Dakota have banned abortions entirely since the overturn of Roe's abortion rights guarantee last summer. Iowa bans them after 21 weeks and 6 days of pregnancy, and in June its high court reversed a prior decision which guaranteed a right to abortion access. North Dakota’s total ban on abortions has been blocked by a court order since July. Illinois, Michigan and Montana are the nearest states in each direction where abortion access is protected. 

Abortion isn’t the only issue Minnesota Democrats are pushing hard on. The start of the legislative session has been fast-paced, with the Senate passing four bills and the House passing seven before the end of January.

“Record productivity is our aim,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said last week at the signing for a bill which extends unemployment benefits for the state’s mine workers. 

Those passed bills also include a measure which would ban discrimination based on hair texture or style, called the CROWN Act and billed as a means of preventing a common form of racial discrimination. Democrats have also planned proposals to restore felons’ right to vote after they’ve served their sentences, allow undocumented immigrants to obtain drivers’ licenses and legalize the use of marijuana. 

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