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Abortion remains legal in Minnesota despite Supreme Court decision

Minnesota could become an island for abortion access in the Midwest in the wake of Supreme Court decision on abortion.

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan spoke at an abortion rights demonstration Tuesday, May 3, 2022, outside the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Minneapolis.
Carlos Gonzalez / Star Tribune / TNS
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ST. PAUL — Abortion services will still be legal in Minnesota despite the U.S. Supreme Court's historic decision on Friday, June 24, that overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide.

The court, in a 6-3 ruling, upheld a Republican-backed Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy except in the case of a medical emergency or severe fetal abnormality.

Planned Parenthood North Central States president and CEO Sarah Stoesz on Friday called the decision "an unconscionable rollback of fundamental rights" that will harm millions of people since abortion access now hinges on state laws.

"An abortion ban is not a ban for all people. It is only a ban for certain people who are unable to travel," Stoesz said. "And for many people, that's not just a question of not having the funds to travel, there are many other barriers that keep them from being able to travel. Abortion bans fall highly inequitably upon the people of this country there's no question about it. It's deepening health disparities."

Stoesz said Planned Parenthood has been preparing for the decision for months and is committed to providing abortions where they are legal, including in Minnesota.

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In a statement Friday, Democratic-Farmer-Labor Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan described themselves as "the last line of defense" for abortion rights in Minnesota.

“This disastrous ruling leaves Minnesotans with a clear choice. As long as we are in the governor’s office, Gov. Walz and I will not put anti-choice judges on the state Supreme Court and we will block any anti-choice legislation,” Flanagan said. “The Republican ticket has promised to pass one of the most extreme abortion bans in the nation — we cannot let that happen. We ask Minnesotans to come together to protect our reproductive rights from a dangerous anti-choice agenda.”

Minnesota’s Supreme Court in a 1995 case upheld the right to an abortion under the state’s constitution, so the U.S Supreme Court’s decision wouldn’t affect the state’s restrictions. But Minnesota clinics could now see an influx of people from neighboring states coming across the border for abortion services.

The Supreme Court's decision triggered laws in Minnesota’s neighbors to the west — North Dakota and South Dakota — that ban abortions in those states. South Dakota's ban goes into effect immediately, and North Dakota's will go into effect in one month.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin and Michigan still have laws on the books predating Roe v. Wade deeming abortion illegal. Those states could enforce those provisions. On June 17, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion, clearing the way for the state's Republican majority to enact stricter abortion measures. Abortion remains legal in Nebraska, though Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said he would call a special session of the Legislature to pass a total abortion ban.

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Becca Clemens / Forum Design Center

What's next in Minnesota?

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood of North Central States, said her organization has taken steps including launching a program that sends abortion pills in the mail to Minnesota residents, increasing telemedicine capacity and hiring more physicians.

Abortion opponents said they would continue pressing Minnesota lawmakers to restrict access to abortion services in the state.

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“Sadly, in Minnesota, that future is more distant than it is in some more forward-looking states. Minnesota’s 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision ensures that abortion will not disappear immediately from our state,” said Renee Carlson, an attorney affiliated with Minnesota Family Council, a conservative Christian lobbying group. “The work to protect women and children in Minnesota from abortion at the Legislature and in the courts is needed now more than ever.”

GOP-endorsed candidate for governor Scott Jensen has said he supports a ban on abortions, and in a Friday statement said if elected he would "seek out loving and caring alternatives like universal adoption, family planning measures to prevent pregnancies and policies like counseling and alternative referrals, medical assistance and other measures that value people — both born and unborn." Jensen running mate Matt Birk has said he opposes abortion in all cases, including rape and incest.

Republican candidates for state attorney general Jim Schultz and Doug Wardlow, both abortion opponents, issued statements in support of the decision.

Under current law, Minnesota requires a 24-hour waiting period between the first contact with a provider and an abortion procedure and requires physicians who perform abortions to read from a script before the procedure. State law also mandates that both parents of a minor have to sign off before an abortion.

The state has seen a relatively steady decline in induced abortions since 1980 and the total number of procedures reported to the state in 2020 was less than half that reported four decades ago. In 2020, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that 807, or roughly 9% of the total 9,108 abortions in the state, were induced in residents of Iowa, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota or Wisconsin.

Amid wide national variability, abortion rates have remained relatively stable in Minnesota and North Dakota since 2017, while falling sharply in South Dakota. Abortion travel is likely behind the variations.

Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison on Tuesday said he would protect women who travel to the state seeking legal abortions from lawsuits and prosecution. While no state currently has an abortion travel ban on the books, lawmakers in states with restrictive abortion laws have floated such restrictions. Already, a Texas abortion law that bans the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and individuals who get abortions.

Gender equity nonprofit Gender Justice called for stronger protections for abortion rights in Minnesota and warned that the Supreme Court's decision could be just the beginning of a series of court rulings unfavorable to progressive causes. In an opinion concurring with the majority in overturning Roe, Justice Clarence Thomas called on the court to reconsider landmark decisions on same-sex marriage and contraception.

“Abortion is not the only right under attack by the Court and state legislatures across the country,” Gender Justice legal director Jess Braverman said in a statement. “The Supreme Court’s utter disregard for the liberty and bodily autonomy of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) people, LGBTQ+ people, women, immigrants, incarcerated people and countless others did not start and will not end with its evisceration of Roe. We are still in the process of examining the opinion, but one thing is clear: other rights that a handful of unelected judges do not like, such as same sex marriage or the right to access contraception, could be next."

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DOBBS, STATE HEALTH OFFICER OF THE MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, ET AL. v. JACKSON WOMEN’S HEALTH ORGAN... by inforumdocs on Scribd

Forum News Service reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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