Walz signs Minnesota abortion rights bill into law
Democrats fast-tracked through the Legislature the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, which supports existing constitutional protections for abortion in Minnesota.
ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, Jan. 31, signed into law a bill protecting access to abortion and reproductive health care in Minnesota, a priority of Democrats who took control of state government at the beginning of the month.
Democrats fast-tracked through the Legislature the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, which supports existing constitutional protections for abortion in Minnesota. Surrounded by dozens of lawmakers and advocates at the signing in St. Paul, the governor noted the speed at which elected officials acted.
“We're now at a signing of a landmark reproductive freedom bill less than one month after taking our oath of office,” Walz said, adding that the state is the first to pass such a law since the overturning of Roe v. Wade. “Minnesotans know that you have access to reproductive health and your right to make your own healthcare decisions are preserved and protected.”
Under the new law, Minnesota recognizes a right to use or refuse reproductive health care and a right to continue a pregnancy and give birth or obtain an abortion. It also prevents local governments from passing any regulations on birth control or abortion.
Republican minorities in the Legislature opposed the legislation and on Monday sent the governor a letter urging him to veto the bill. In a joint letter House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth and Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, called the bill "extreme."
After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, ending 50 years of federal abortion protections, Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz said adding further protections to state law became a top priority.
While the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez ensures a constitutional right to abortion, DFLers said they didn’t want to take protections for granted. Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL Minneapolis, said voters elected DFL majorities in part to preserve the freedom to have an abortion. Democrats won complete control of state government in November after years of splitting control of the Legislature with Republicans.
Even before the overturning of Roe, the Democratic lawmakers had started crafting legislation to protect abortion as the Republican-appointed majority on the U.S. Supreme Court continued to grow.
“A little less than two years ago, a group of us in the Legislature could really start to see the writing on the wall,” said Duluth DFL Sen. Jen McEwen, the bill’s main author in the Senate. “And furthermore, we were tired of playing defense for these assaults on our reproductive freedoms.”
Republicans have said Democrats moved too quickly on the bill and have characterized it as extreme. During a grueling 15-hour Senate debate on the bill that went from Friday afternoon into the wee hours of Saturday, GOP opponents introduced amendments including limits on how far into a pregnancy abortion can be permitted.
It passed the Senate around 3 a.m. Saturday 34-33. The House passed the bill 69-65 on Jan. 19, with just one DFLer — Rep. Gene Pelowski of Winona — joining Republicans in opposition.
One of the central arguments Republicans and abortion opponents have made against the PRO Act is it does not contain any language restricting abortions in the later stages of pregnancy. In committee hearings for the bill, Republicans also attempted to introduce amendments to create restrictions such as a requirement for second- and third-trimester abortions to take place in a medical facility or limiting abortion to the first and second trimesters of pregnancy.
Minnesota law currently bans abortion after viability, the point at which a fetus would be able to survive on its own outside the womb. Generally, that point is at about 24 weeks, though it can vary between pregnancies. The Minnesota Department of Health reported 10 abortions after the 24-week mark between 2017 and 2021, of about 10,000 or so that occur each year in the state.
A Ramsey County District Judge in July tossed several Minnesota laws restricting abortion, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement for minors to notify both parents before getting the procedure. Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison, who backs abortion rights, declined to file an appeal in the case, though an independent group has challenged the ruling.
There are other DFL-backed bills moving through the Legislature that would further codify abortion access, including proposals to remove the wait period and notification requirement from state law. DFL legislative leaders have also said they'd consider voting to place a constitutional amendment on abortion on the ballot. Voters in California, Michigan and Vermont all approved measures to create a constitutional right to abortion last year.
Minnesota became a virtual island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Abortion is now illegal in almost all cases in Wisconsin and South Dakota. North Dakota has a "trigger law" abortion ban tied to the high court’s decision, but it was temporarily blocked by a district judge and awaits a final decision from the state’s supreme court. Abortion remains legal in Iowa, though that state’s supreme court nullified a constitutional right to abortion in that state in 2022, clearing the path for Republicans to pursue further restrictions.
This story was updated at 4:09 p.m. Jan. 31 with additional information from the Legislature. It was originally posted at 3:11 p.m. Jan. 31.
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