Abortion in Minnesota: Senate nears vote to put abortion protections in law

The Minnesota Senate was nearing a vote Friday to guarantee abortion access in state law, a move aimed at making it harder for a court to roll back Minnesota's abortion protections.

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 Senate was still debating the bill several hours later. Passage would send the measure to Gov. Tim Walz, who plans to sign it into law.

"We will not simply put our faith in individual judges to uphold our rights," said state Sen. Jen McEwen, DFL-Duluth and the bill's chief author. "We will also enshrine those rights into state statute." 

Nothing will change immediately. 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 House passed the abortion access measure last week on a 69-65 vote, with all Republicans and one Democrat voting against the measure. 

Republicans remain frustrated that the bill imposes no new restrictions on when an abortion can take place. In the Senate, they unsuccessfully sought to make amendments to the bill Friday.

"Today we are not just codifying Roe v. Wade or Doe v. Gomez," Senate GOP Leader Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks said. "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. 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, said Dr. Sarah Traxler, the organization's chief medical officer.

"Anytime you put a barrier in place, there’s going to be a delay," Traxler said. "The more barriers you put in place, the longer it is before they can access that care."

Democrats are separately moving legislation to 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.

A third bill that got its first committee hearing Thursday 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. 

Friday morning, some Republican senators led chants among anti-abortion activists in the Capitol rotunda.

"What it (the bill) really is, it’s abortion on demand for all. That’s what it really is," said state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.

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.

"Given that we do not have many doctors in this body, I would urge members not to legislate on how people practice health care," said state Sen. Alice Mann, DFL-Edina, an emergency room physician. 

This story is developing and will be updated.