Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


Let's be clear about what an "extreme" position on abortion looks like now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

It is not what is currently under consideration in Minnesota under the proposed Equal Rights Amendment: constitutionally protecting the right of a pregnant woman and her doctor to decide what is medically appropriate care.

Instead, extreme applies to rigid abortion restrictions, mainly enacted in southern states, that have left hospitals refusing to terminate a pregnancy until the woman is on the brink of death. Example: Jaci Stratton of Oklahoma, who developed a pregnancy complication that can cause hemorrhaging, infection and death, and was told by medical providers to wait in the parking lot "until she was actively crashing in front of them or on the verge of a heart attack."

Thankfully, Minnesota women will not be told to wait until their life is in jeopardy before receiving care. In 2023, the state's DFL legislative majority codified abortion access with the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act. But as Roe's downfall revealed, even longstanding guardrails protecting abortion access can come down with breathtaking speed. A change in legislative control in the state, for example, could lead to a weakening of the PRO Act, or even its demise.

More durable protections, such as that provided by an addition to the state's Constitution, are urgently in order. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) currently under consideration at the Minnesota Legislature would provide them. In addition, the ERA would guarantee equal rights to historically vulnerable Minnesotans, preventing discrimination by the state due to race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, sex, gender identity or expression or sexual orientation.

The ERA, various iterations of which have emerged for years at the Capitol, has had impressive momentum recently. A version passed the Senate last year with some Republican support, with the House taking up the bill and modifying it this session.

In a news conference Thursday, Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Jamie Long, both DFLers, made clear their commendable commitment to the ERA. The House had been expected to vote on its ERA bill early this week but faced delays. The House floor debate began on Friday but a vote hadn't taken place as this editorial was written. The strong support from Hortman and Long on Thursday, however, bodes well for the ERA to make it across the legislative finish line.

If the measure passes, it must go before Minnesota voters for approval before it's added to the state Constitution. The House version of the ERA calls for this in 2026. The Senate version aimed for the ERA to go before voters this fall.

The timing is one key difference between the two chambers' versions. The Star Tribune Editorial Board believes that women have waited long enough for the ERA's protections. The measure was among the highest-profile political issues of the 1970s. We prefer having a vote this fall. That said, the 2026 timing would give Minnesota voters time to thoroughly debate this constitutional change.

Opposition to the bill has come from Republican leadership and some religious groups. A key flash point is that the House version does not include "religion" alongside race, color, sex, gender identity or orientation. The Senate version had the word "creed" in it, but the House's doesn't.

"We have many concerns about the amendment language and its potential outcomes, the most alarming is the failure to protect people from discrimination based on 'religion,'" said Jason Adkins, executive director of the Minnesota Catholic Conference, in a statement to an editorial writer. "As currently written, the ERA is not equality for all. It's special protection for some, and punishment for others. In doing the bidding of activists who want to harm religious communities that hold traditional views about sex and gender, legislators are enabling discrimination against all Minnesotans."

But even a quick read of the Minnesota Constitution makes clear the strong safeguards in place for religious beliefs. The preamble mentions "religious liberty." Under Article 1, Sec. 16, states "no preference to be given to any religious establishment or mode of worship." Sec. 17 states that "religious tests" are prohibited to vote, hold office or to give evidence in any court of law. Adding the ERA to this document does not negate these protections.

"The State Constitution already provides protections for religious liberty, even stronger than the federal level. If passed, the Minnesota ERA will secure protections for equal rights under the law for groups that don't yet have those protections written into the Constitution. This will ensure that every Minnesotan is included, and nobody is left out," said Jess Braverman, legal director for Gender Justice, an ERA advocacy group.

Abortion opponents also object to the reproductive health care rights that the ERA would enshrine. An oft-played TV advertisement depicting a conversation between two women dubs the amendment "extreme," implying it would open the floodgates to abortions of healthy babies shortly before delivery.

State statistics show that pregnancy terminations are rare after 24 weeks, with just two out of the 12,175 abortions occurring in 2022. In these situations, the procedure is one of heartbreak and medical urgency, not convenience.

ERA opponents also claim that the amendment is deceptive in regard to the abortion rights it would enshrine. That's not true. Advocates have pointed to restrictions elsewhere as a reason the ERA is needed here. The language regarding pregnancy is also clear, and would protect access to fertility treatment and birth control as well.

Minnesotans can and should be trusted to evaluate the amendment with care. Legislators should give them that opportunity and pass the ERA legislation this year.

Editorial Board members are David Banks, Jill Burcum, Scott Gillespie, Denise Johnson and John Rash. Star Tribune Opinion staff members Maggie Kelly, Kavita Kumar and Elena Neuzil also contribute, and Star Tribune CEO and Publisher Steve Grove serves as an adviser to the board.