Minnesota physicians and organizations that help women access abortions are bracing for a spike in demand, days after Texas enacted a law considered the most restrictive abortion ban since Roe v. Wade.
The law prohibits abortions as early as six weeks — before some women know they're pregnant — and is already pushing people in Texas and surrounding states to seek abortions elsewhere. Destinations include Minnesota, where abortion access is constitutionally protected and less restrictive than many states. Meanwhile, in neighboring North Dakota, lawmakers on Thursday signaled that they plan to introduce their own version of the Texas law.
Though reproductive health advocates in Minnesota were anticipating a major challenge to Roe v. Wade, many expected it would come next year, when the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, said Megumi Rierson, communications manager for Our Justice, a Twin Cities-based organization that helps pay for abortions. The court's decision early Thursday not to block the Texas law changed that calculus.
"Providers and advocates were all preparing for an increase in requests, but we thought that we had a lot longer to develop some infrastructure," she said. "And we don't, because now it's here."
The pressure on Minnesota is only expected to rise if more states follow Texas' lead — something advocates say they predict after the court's decision. Minnesota is home to a handful of abortion clinics in the Twin Cities, Duluth and Rochester, as well as the telemedicine clinic Just the Pill, which provides medication abortions to women in Minnesota and surrounding states.
Dr. Julie Amaon, Just the Pill's medical director, said Thursday she's already hearing from patients in Texas and other states looking to travel to Minnesota for medication abortions. Just the Pill is not currently providing services to those patients and does not provide direct referrals for patients in Texas, according to a statement.
The availability of medication abortions via telemedicine helped lower some barriers to abortion that the pandemic created, and it is seen as a potential solution as state restrictions increase. But "it is not the answer to everything," said Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer with Planned Parenthood North Central States, which serves Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Patients may need or prefer surgical abortions, Traxler said. And though the pandemic prompted the Food and Drug Administration to temporarily allow doctors to mail the drugs to patients, most states surrounding Minnesota restrict telemedicine abortion, she said. Telemedicine laws apply to the state where the patient is, not the provider, so patients in other states would still need to travel to Minnesota to access it.
That means more pressure on brick-and-mortar clinics, which already face hurdles of their own. Though abortion access is constitutionally protected in Minnesota, there are restrictions including a 24-hour waiting period, mandated counseling and a requirement that minors notify both parents.
"If Minnesota ends up having to take care of a large number of women who come from outside of the state, that may create a further access-to-care problem," said Rep. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, an obstetrician-gynecologist who has introduced legislation to strengthen reproductive rights. "This is an American problem, but because it's being fought in state legislatures across the country right now, some of the burden is falling disproportionately on certain areas."
In 2019, the legal and policy advocacy organization Gender Justice sued the state on behalf of a group of plaintiffs to challenge Minnesota's abortion restrictions, arguing that they are unconstitutional. The case is expected to go to trial in Ramsey County District Court in June, said Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson.
Meanwhile, Peterson and other advocates said, abortion access in Minnesota remains unchanged.
"A lot of people, including people who maybe need abortion care, will see the news and be really worried about, what does it mean?" Peterson said. "This is very much worth freaking out over, but we don't want to have people think abortion is illegal in Minnesota — it's not."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Emma Nelson • 612-673-4509