ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Tim Waltz enshrined the right to abortion and other reproductive health care into Minnesota law Tuesday, signing a bill that aims to ensure the state’s existing protections remain in place no matter who sits on future courts.
Democratic leaders took advantage of their new control both houses of the legislature to rush the bill in the first month in the 2023 legislative session. They attribute the backlash against the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last summer to overturning Roe v. Wade for them to take over the state Senate and to retain their majority in the House in a year when Republicans expected to make gains.
“After last year’s landmark election in this country, we are the first state to take legislative action to enact these protections,” Walz said at a signing ceremony, joined by more than 100 lawmakers, providers and other advocates who worked to pass the bill.
Abortion rights were already protected by a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision known as Doe v. Gomez, which held that the state constitution protects abortion rights. And a district court judge last summer declared it unconstitutional several restrictions that previous legislatures had enacted, including a 24-hour waiting period and a parental notification requirement for minors.
Opponents denounced the bill as “extreme,” saying it and other fast-track laws would leave Minnesota without restrictions on abortion at any stage of pregnancy.
The GOP minority leaders in the Senate and House, Sen. Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks and Rep. Lisa Demuth of Cold Spring, urged Walz in a letter Monday to veto the bill, saying the Democratic majorities rejected dozens amendments Republican lawmakers have proposed as railings, including bans on third-trimester abortions except to save the patient’s life.
But the White House welcomed Waltz’s signature on the bill, noting that Minnesota is the first state legislature to codify the protection into law this year. Spokeswoman Karin Jean-Pierre noted that voters also turned out to vote on abortion access ballot initiatives in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont.
“As congressional Republicans continue to support extreme policies, including a national abortion ban, the president and vice president are calling on Congress to restore Roe’s protections to federal law,” Jean-Pierre said in a statement. “Until then, the Biden-Harris administration will continue its work to protect abortion access and support state leaders in protecting women’s reproductive rights.”
While the new law won’t have any immediate further impact on abortion access in Minnesota, the governor, legislative leaders and the bill’s sponsors said it provides a critical new level of protection in case the makeup of the state’s courts someday changes. as the US Supreme Court did before it overruled Roe v. Wade.
“To Minnesotans, know that your access to reproductive health and your right to make your own health care decisions are preserved and protected,” Waltz said. “And because of this law, that’s not going to change with the political winds and the makeup of the Supreme Court.”
The House passed the bill 69-65 less than two weeks ago, and party discipline held firm during a 15-hour Senate debate that ended in a 34-33 vote early Saturday.
“Basically, this legislation is about who decides,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park. “Who should have the legal right to make reproductive health care decisions for an individual. … It cannot be decided by politicians. This cannot be decided by judges.”
Abortion is currently considered illegal at all stages of pregnancy, with various exceptions, in 13 states, including neighboring Wisconsin and South Dakota. Bans in several states, including neighboring North Dakota, remain on hold pending legal challenges. Because of restrictions elsewhere, Minnesota is seeing a surge of pregnant patients coming to the state for abortions.
Minnesota’s new law is called the PRO Act, short for Protect Reproductive Actions. It found that “every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about their own reproductive health,” including abortion and contraception.
There are other bills to protect abortion rights in the Legislature, including one to remove legal restrictions that a district court ruled unconstitutional last summer. It is intended to prevent those limits from being reinstated if that decision is overturned on appeal. Hortman said he expects a parliamentary vote to approve them as early as next week.