Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation Tuesday adding a "fundamental right" to abortion in state law, the first proposal in an expansive agenda moving at the Capitol to solidify Minnesota's status as a safe haven for the procedure.
"The message that we're sending to Minnesota today is very clear: Your rights are protected in this state," Walz said, surrounded by legislators and supporters. "You have the right to make your own decisions about your health, your family and your life."
Minnesota Democrats, who narrowly control state government, fast-tracked the bill following the U.S. Supreme Court's reversal of Roe v. Wade last summer, which struck down nearly 50 years of federal constitutional protection for abortion. Walz's signature one month into the legislative session makes Minnesota the 16th state to spell out a right to abortion in law, and the first state to codify those protections since Roe was overturned.
Democrats have credited their newfound majorities in both chambers of the Legislature with fury from voters last fall over the high court's decision.
"Because you Roe, Roe, Roe-ed your vote, Minnesota is making history," said Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie, who sponsored the bill in the House. "Minnesota forever will be a north star as every one of our neighboring states continues to deny fundamental rights to their citizens."
The proposal faced intense backlash from abortion opponents and Republican legislators, who have called the policy "extreme" and encouraged Walz to veto the bill. Opponents tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill to add restrictions, including limits on abortion in the third trimester and a requirement that it be performed in hospital setting.
"Here in Minnesota, you don't even need to be a doctor or have a licensed facility in order to perform abortions," said Cathy Blaeser, co-executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state's largest organization opposing abortions. "The lack of guardrails to protect women and children is appalling."
The new law won't change the reality for abortion providers in Minnesota, where access is already protected by a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling. But Democrats said Roe's demise showed how access could vanish at the hands of future judges.
Known as the Protect Reproductive Options Act — or PRO Act — the law says that every individual who becomes pregnant has a fundamental right "to continue the pregnancy and give birth, or obtain an abortion." It also protects rights to contraception, sterilization, family planning and counseling while prohibiting local governments from enacting their own ordinances to restrict abortion access.
The Senate passed the bill on a 34-33 party line vote after 15 hours of debate early Saturday, while all Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill in the House.
Democrats rejected all GOP amendments, noting that abortions in the third trimester are exceedingly rare in Minnesota and usually result from a medical emergency. They said those decisions should be made between a patient and doctor.
"With the signing of the PRO Act, the people who will discuss the next step in health care management will be those in the exam room," said Dr. Melissa Richards, an OB-GYN in Rochester. "Now the clutch part: The person deciding the next step will be the person with the uterus."
Minnesota's lawbooks never explicitly allowed for abortion access before. Instead, lawmakers enacted regulations on the procedure over the years, including a parental notification requirement for minors, a 24-hour waiting period to get an abortion and informed consent. A Ramsey County judge ruled those laws and other restrictions unconstitutional last July. A group of women are arguing in court to seek an appeal.
The Center for Reproductive Rights places Minnesota among 10 states that have expanded access to abortion, either through court rulings or legislative action.
"I applaud Gov. Walz for signing a bill codifying reproductive rights, including the right to abortion, into Minnesota state law," Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted Tuesday. "State and local governments must continue to step up to protect reproductive health care for women everywhere."
In the Midwest, only Minnesota and Illinois have expanded access to abortion, while neighboring Wisconsin and South Dakota have banned most access to the procedure post-Roe. Abortion rights advocates anticipate lawmakers in North Dakota and Iowa will enact restrictions as well.
That reality has increased the number of patients traveling from outside Minnesota for the procedure by 13%, and the number of second-trimester abortions has risen by 40%, said Ruth Richardson, a DFL legislator and president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States.
The new law is the first in a series of bills moving at the Capitol to dramatically reshape what Minnesota law says about abortion access, while also protecting people who travel to the state to seek an abortion.
Members of the Legislature's Reproductive Freedom Caucusare also pushing to repeal abortion restrictions from the statutes and restrict state grants for crisis pregnancy centers, which are nonprofits created by abortion opponents that try to dissuade women from seeking an abortion.
Another proposal aims to make patient data private to protect people traveling to Minnesota for the procedure, as well as their providers. The bill would also restrict subpoenas and extradition orders from states where the procedure is banned.
"We must remember that so many of our sisters, our neighbors, our relatives and our friends across the country have lost the right to make their own choices," said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan. "My message to them is: You are welcome in Minnesota, and we are not done."