Abortion in Minnesota: Walz signs 'fundamental right' to abortion into state law

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation Tuesday guaranteeing abortion access in state law, which puts Minnesota among the first states to implement new abortion protections since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year.

The law creating a "fundamental right" to abortion takes effect Wednesday, making it harder for a court to roll back Minnesota's existing abortion protections. Abortion is already a protected right in Minnesota because of a 1995 state Supreme Court decision in Doe v. Gomez. Democrats see a law change as a backstop in case the court ever reserves itself. 

"The message that we’re sending to Minnesota today is very clear: your rights are protected in this state," Walz said at a signing ceremony with about 100 lawmakers and advocates behind him. "Because of this law, that won’t change with the political winds or the makeup of the Supreme Court." 

The abortion issue has dominated the first four weeks of the legislative session after Democrats took control of all three levers of state government in the 2022 election. Abortion was a top issue in the election after the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe, and Democrats said the election results showed voters agree with abortion protections.

The bill passed through the state Legislature narrowly with no Republican votes. The Senate approved it on a 34-33 party-line vote early Saturday after a 15-hour debate.

The Senate started its debate Friday morning as the biggest crowds of the session gathered in the Capitol rotunda. State troopers prevented hundreds of people on both sides of the abortion bill from getting close to the Senate chamber, and lines formed for fewer than 100 seats in the Senate gallery.

The House passed the abortion access measure earlier this month on a 69-65 vote, with state Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, joining Republicans in opposition.

Republicans and anti-abortion rights groups call the bill extreme because it imposes no new restrictions on when an abortion can take place. On Monday, Republican legislative leaders urged Walz to veto the measure.

"Today we are not just codifying Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Gomez," Senate GOP Leader Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks said during the Senate's debate last week. "We are enacting the most extreme bill in the country." 

Of the 10,000 abortions performed here in 2021, only one happened in the third trimester and none beyond 26 weeks. More than 91% of abortions came in the first trimester, state data indicate.

In recent weeks, officials with Planned Parenthood North Central States said they've seen a 13% increase in women coming from out of state for abortion services since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, triggering abortion bans in several states.  That includes a 40% increase in second-trimester abortions.

Abortion rights supporters said the law, called the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, would make abortion care "non-negotiable" in Minnesota.

"What a sense of relief," said Dr. Melissa Richards, an OB/GYN. "The PRO Act allows ordinary patient care to remain ordinary."

Democrats are separately moving two other pieces of abortion legislation that Speaker Melissa Hortman said would receive House floor votes in the second week of February. One measure would wipe several abortion laws -- including the state's 24-hour waiting period -- off the books after a Ramsey County judge struck them down last year.

Another bill that got its first committee hearing last week gives legal protections to abortion providers and women coming from states where abortion is illegal. Democrats see this change as a safeguard, because DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison has already said he would fight another state if it tried to extradite a woman out of Minnesota.