Thousands of Minnesotans brought the abortion debate to the State Capitol lawn on Tuesday, as activists vowed to step up their campaign to outlaw the procedure.

"We know that Minnesota is a pro-life state and your presence on a frigid day is a testament to this cause," House GOP leader Kurt Daudt told the crowd. The large turnout, Daudt added, sends a "message to legislators that we do the right thing when we stand on the side of life."

This year's annual March for Life comes at a turbulent time in the abortion debate across Minnesota. More stringent abortion restrictions are on the rise in Republican-leaning states across the country, including Minnesota neighbors like Iowa, which passed the nation's most restrictive measure last year. A new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has also given opponents hope that they may be able to further chip away at, or even overturn, Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

States led by Democrats, meanwhile, have passed stronger protections for abortion access. In Minnesota, DFL control of the state House and governorship means that measures aimed at restricting abortions will face stiff opposition. A 2018 Star Tribune/MPR Minnesota Poll found that 59 percent of Minnesotans want Roe v. Wade upheld. Minnesota also has its own version of the ruling, known as Doe v. Gomez, which protects a woman's right to terminate a pregnancy.

The annual rally against abortion is among the largest at the Minnesota Capitol each year, drawing thousands of supporters who fill large sections of the lawn. Activists waved "Protect Life" posters in bright hues and sang along to "Amazing Grace" as the event got underway.

Droves of students, some of whom were bused to the Capitol by schools and church groups, carried "Pro-Life Generation" signs. One group of high schoolers jumped jubilantly as a priest led them in a series of chants. "Who loves babies? We love babies!" they yelled.

Attendees braved slick roads to make the march, though inclement weather did lead to the cancellation of several buses from Rochester. Taylor Mellberg, a 27-year-old from Dayton, said attending, despite the conditions, was her way of showing support for the movement.

"Ideally I would like Planned Parenthood to be defunded and abortion to be stopped," Mellberg, who wore a sweatshirt and "many layers," said. "I am not optimistic, but I'm hopeful."

A bill that would bring Minnesota much closer to those aims was presented Tuesday. Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, introduced legislation that would ban abortion once a heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks. Critics say such measures are unconstitutional, as some women may not realize they are pregnant by that stage, so the bill would effectively outlaw almost all abortions.

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which sponsors the rally, is backing legislation requiring doctors to give women the option to view an ultrasound before an abortion as one of its top priorities this year. The proposal passed both legislative chambers last session, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat.

"Women deserve to see their ultrasounds," MCCL's Robyn Swiderski said at the rally. "They deserve to see the truth an ultrasound shows to make an informed decision about a procedure that is life-altering."

Supporters of abortion access said the proposal is unnecessary.

"We don't oppose ultrasounds, but we oppose this legislation because it dictates the conversation between a woman and her doctor," said Jen Aulwes, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. She said that physicians are already fulfilling their legal and ethical duties in informing patients of their options.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, called the proposal "insulting to women."

"This is a weighty decision between a doctor, a woman and her god, and no woman makes that decision lightly," Hortman said, adding her caucus opposes "unnecessary burdens being in the way of women's rights to access their full range of reproductive health care options."

The proposal will likely fare better in the state Senate, where Republicans hold a narrow majority. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, voiced support for the ultrasound proposal, calling it "a step but not the end goal."

Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, tried not to stoke division on the issue.

"While I believe women have the right to make their own decisions about their health care, the Capitol belongs to the people and I welcome all Minnesotans to come express their views," said Walz, who did not attend the rally.

Gazelka cited several scriptures from the Bible as he encouraged attendees to forge ahead on their goal of ending abortion.

"Because our moral compass is pointing the right direction, we can have hope we can overcome evil with good," he said.

Torey Van Oot • 612-673-7299