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Minnesota House approves placing abortion protections into state law

DFL lawmakers are fast-tracking abortion protections through the capitol. House members voted 69-65 Thursday to pass their version of the bill, with just one DFLer joining Republicans in opposition.

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Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, shares with fellow Minnesota House members her story of having an abortion.
Screengrab from House livestream
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ST. PAUL — After nearly four hours of debate that at times became emotional, the Minnesota House of Representatives on Thursday, Jan. 19, voted to pass a bill codifying protections for abortion access into state law.

The Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, the first bill introduced in both the House and Senate this session, boosts existing constitutional protections for abortion in Minnesota. It recognizes a right to use or refuse reproductive health care and a right to continue a pregnancy and give birth or obtain an abortion. Additionally, the bill would also prevent local governments from passing any regulations on birth control or abortion.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, ending federal abortion protections, Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and Gov. Tim Walz said adding further protections to state law became a top priority. While access to abortion remains a right in Minnesota under a 1995 state Supreme Court decision, DFL lawmakers said they wouldn’t take the current protections for granted.

“Minnesotans saw what happened to Roe when anti-choice politicians appointed judges who tossed almost 50 years of legal precedent out the window after telling us it was settled case law,” said Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, DFL-Eden Prairie, House sponsor of the PRO Act.

DFL lawmakers are fast-tracking abortion protections through the capitol to get a bill to the governor’s desk. House members voted 69-65 Thursday to pass their version of the bill with just one DFLer joining Republicans in opposition. The Senate is preparing to take up the bill for a full floor vote as well. Gov. Tim Walz said he’ll sign a bill when it gets to his desk.

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Members of the public pray in the Minnesota House of Representatives gallery Thursday, Jan. 19, ahead of a vote on a bill that to codify abortion rights protections in state law.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Ahead of the vote, Rep. Athena Hollins, DFL-St. Paul, shared her personal experience of having an abortion after her birth control failed.

“It wasn’t an easy decision for me to make, but it was my decision. It was my body and it was my future,” she said, reading from what she had originally intended to be an opinion piece but instead decided to share on the floor.

Hollins said she kept her experience hidden for years, but after learning her mother also had an abortion — and didn’t talk about it for decades — she wanted to do her part to destigmatize the issue.

“I refuse to keep my abortion a secret for 30-plus years, my daughter deserves to know that I will be there for her if she makes the same difficult decision in her future,” Hollins said.

Soon after Hollins’ floor speech, an anti-abortion protester in the chamber’s gallery had an outburst, yelling at members that they would “answer to God” for their votes. Security escorted him out of the capitol building.

Some Republican House members decried the PRO Act as “extreme” as it does not contain any language restricting abortions in the later stages of pregnancy. In committees and on the House floor, they attempted to amend the bill 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 PRO Act does not specifically address viability.

“This bill is extreme, this is out of touch. There are zero guardrails, none,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, a North Branch Republican.

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Biden official hails bill on Minnesota visit

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Xavier Becerra, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, addresses reporters at the Minnesota Capitol on Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

Ahead of the floor session, DFL legislative leaders, the governor and U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra addressed reporters at the Capitol. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said voters sent a strong message on abortion in November when they gave Democrats complete control of state government.

“Minnesotans believe they should have the freedom to make their own health care decisions, and in the last election they spoke very clearly,” she said. “They value reproductive freedom, and they oppose efforts to infringe upon that.”

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Becerra noted that Thursday's floor vote came ahead of Jan. 22, the 50-year anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established federal protections for abortion. Minnesota became a virtual island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest after the Supreme Court overturned the decision in June.

Becerra, who earlier Thursday met with regional Planned Parenthood leadership in St. Paul, said the Biden Administration is a partner with Minnesota DFLers in their fight to protect abortion access and hailed the bill as a step toward bringing the country back to where it was before the Supreme Court.

“The PRO Act is just one important step in this long road back to where we should have gone in the first place,” Becerra told reporters in the Governor’s Reception Room in the State Capitol.

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Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman addresses reporters in the Governor's Reception Room at the Capitol Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023, ahead of a House vote on a bill to codify abortion rights in state law.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

The Minnesota House now has a strong Democratic majority and fewer anti-abortion Democrats from rural districts, giving an abortion rights bill its strongest shot in recent memory. Senate Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic told reporters Thursday that there’s a “pro-choice majority” in the Senate, though did not immediately offer details on a timeline for the PRO Act in that chamber.

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