Minnesota enshrines abortion rights into state law. Here's what that means.
While abortion rights are already protected in Minnesota under a 1995 state Supreme Court decision, an expert breaks down the wider implications of the PRO Act.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed legislation on Tuesday that codifies abortion rights and protects reproductive care in the state, while opponents have called it one of the most extreme in the nation. The law states that “every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health.”
“The message we are sending to Minnesota today is very clear: Your rights are protected in this state,” Walz, a Democrat, said at the bill signing. “Today we are delivering on our promise to put up a firewall.”
The Protect Reproductive Options Act, known as the PRO Act, narrowly passed 34-33 in the state Senate on Saturday on a party-line vote following 15 hours of contentious debate. Republicans tried to make amendments to the bill, such as bans on third-trimester abortions, but were unsuccessful.
“Today we are not just codifying Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Gomez, as the author has indicated, we are enacting the most extreme bill in the country," said Republican state Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, during debate.
But abortion rights advocates point out that so-called late-term abortions are very rare. Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, told reporters that third-trimester abortions mostly happen under “very tragic” circumstances, such as fetal abnormalities or if the mother’s health is threatened.
Critics of the new law point out that abortion rights are already protected in the state by the 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court Doe v. Gomez decision. But Democrats counter that the PRO Act is a second line of defense if the federal government eventually implements anti-abortion legislation. (The Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate and White House would not back such a measure today.)
“What Minnesotans are afraid of is to see, potentially, that what happened at the federal level with our U.S. Supreme Court could eventually, in some future time, happen here in Minnesota,” said state Sen. Jennifer McEwen, the bill’s Democratic sponsor.
Yahoo News spoke to Laura Hermer, professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Minnesota, in an effort to understand the impact of the PRO Act in a state that already has abortion rights. (Some responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
Yahoo News: What protections does the PRO Act offer people in Minnesota?
Laura Hermer: The PRO Act is essentially the state Legislature's codification of the Minnesota Supreme Court case Doe v. Gomez, which protects the right to abortion in the state. Doe v. Gomez found that the right to privacy that has been implied in the Minnesota Constitution extends to the right not only to get an abortion, but to decide whether or not to choose an abortion.
The PRO Act says, with respect to reproductive health care and reproductive choices and options, those fundamentally rest with the individual. That's important, because state high courts can overturn decisions that once guaranteed abortion under the state constitution.
Does the PRO Act specify any restrictions on abortions after a certain point?
The bill itself does not set any limits. It is simply establishing the right of individuals to make autonomous decisions regarding reproduction and reproductive health care.
[The viability standard in Minnesota statute was ruled unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade by a federal court in 1976. The threshold on limiting abortions in Minnesota has been widely debated. A bill is advancing at the state Capitol tackling the debate over abortions performed later in pregnancy.]
Does the PRO Act noticeably change anything for the people of Minnesota?
It doesn't really change anything at present. It is more inclusive than what is discussed in Doe v. Gomez, which only concerns abortion. The PRO Act also concerns decisions about getting fertility treatments, pre-conception care and maternity care.
[The bill also includes reproductive health care like contraception and sterilization, family planning and counseling regarding reproductive health care.]
How does the PRO Act affect care for states adjacent to Minnesota with abortion restrictions?
It certainly solidifies our place as an area that protects reproductive rights, broadly speaking. Individuals who live in states like Wisconsin, for example, that prohibit abortion altogether, or places like Iowa that are considering doing so, know that they can come to Minnesota. To the extent that we have capacity in Minnesota, that's another issue. We’ve been ramping up capacity and there's going to be limits, but they can come and get care that they can't get in their own state.
What else do you feel is important for people to know about reproductive rights in Minnesota?
The Minnesota legislators, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party, have said this is the first among other bills that are being debated right now that are under discussion in the Legislature. And that there is more work that remains to be done if the DFL is going to be successful in protecting reproductive freedoms for Minnesotans.