A slate of proposals before the Minnesota Legislature this session seek to limit abortion access, including a measure that would prohibit the procedure early in pregnancy and outsource enforcement of the law to private citizens.
Most of these measures are unlikely to gain traction, with DFL House leaders expected to block them and DFL Gov. Tim Walz, who supports abortion rights, ready to veto any that pass. But those pushing for new restrictions say that with the U.S. Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe v. Wade this summer, the midterm elections on the horizon and other states already clamping down, they hope that Minnesota could follow suit.
"It does give me optimism and absolutely, there is an increased energy," said Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, who has introduced four bills this session that would make it more difficult to obtain an abortion in Minnesota. "Those of us that have had a passion for this — it's been a long haul, but we're in a window of time where we have a great opportunity to have influence over this."
Abortion access is constitutionally protected in Minnesota under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Gomez, which makes the state a regional exception and, increasingly, a destination for women across the country seeking abortions. But even with that protection in place, lawmakers and organizations that advocate for expanding reproductive rights say abortion access in Minnesota is not guaranteed — and, like those on the other side, they're feeling the urgency of the moment.
In September, a group of legislators formed the Reproductive Freedom Caucus after a new Texas law — which bans most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy — went into effect and the U.S. Supreme Court didn't block it.
"We really feel that we need to ring the alarm bells — that the urgency of this moment is real, that the ability to access comprehensive reproductive health care in the United States is in real danger," said Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, a caucus member and an OB-GYN. "It has been for a long time, but that danger is accelerating right now."
Minnesota has barriers to abortion access already on the books, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandated counseling and a requirement that minors notify both parents. A lawsuit challenging those policies in Ramsey County court is ongoing.
Morrison is lead House sponsor of two bills that would expand abortion access: the Patients' Right to Know Act, which would undo an existing requirement that health care providers read a specific script to patients seeking abortions; and the Protect Reproductive Options Act, which would establish the right of individuals to make their own reproductive health decisions.
While Morrison said she thinks there's significant legislative support for both pieces of legislation, she also acknowledged a partisan split: Of the more than 50 House and Senate members in the Reproductive Freedom Caucus, all are DFLers. And some Democrats in the Legislature side with Republicans in their opposition to abortion.
Morrison's lead co-sponsors in the Senate — Sen. Lindsey Port, DFL-Burnsville, and Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth — say they're not optimistic about the chances for the two bills in the GOP-controlled chamber.
"I don't, at this point, see a path to us passing, really, the strongest legislation that we will need to really fortify the rights that we have in Minnesota," McEwen said. The focus now, she said, will be "making sure that Minnesotans have a clear picture of what things are like in Minnesota," and what the ramifications will be if Roe is overturned or a governor who opposes abortion rights is elected.
Erin Maye Quade, a former House DFLer and advocacy director at the organization Gender Justice, said Democrats now are speaking up in support of abortion rights in a way they weren't when she was at the Capitol. She is running for the state Senate.
"I felt like there was a lot of permission for legislators to treat abortion as if it was fine to not be outspoken on it, that it was fine to give up all these concessions," she said, noting the uptick in bills aiming to boost reproductive health care access since the formation of the UnRestrict Minnesota coalition, of which Gender Justice is a part. "I think that the movement itself actually needed to apply pressure, and stop giving permission to legislators to treat our issue as if it was a sacrifice, as if it was fine to just pay it lip service once a year and then never do anything about it."
Still, the lion's share of abortion-related bills introduced in 2021 and 2022 would reduce access. And for those working toward that goal, legislation — even if unsuccessful in a given session — is an opportunity to keep the cause alive.
"Each year builds upon the next year," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of the more than 50-year-old organization Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "We call it internally 'the incremental approach.' But it's one that's working, and we're pleased with it."
Miller plans to retire from the Legislature after this session, but he isn't giving up on his proposals, including the ban similar to the one in Texas. They include making it a crime to provide an abortion once a heartbeat is detected, typically around six weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest. Minnesota currently prohibits abortion after viability, with some exceptions, but does not define a timeline for fetal viability.
"Maybe someone can carry these bills forward," he said. "But my convictions before God are that I need to defend life, and so I'm going to continue to do so. What happens outside my influence — I can't control that."
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.