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House passes abortion legal defense bill

Democrats look to provide legal shield for patients who may be targeted by other states for getting legal abortions in Minnesota.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota lawmakers Monday moved to provide legal protections for patients and providers who risk being targeted by other states for legal abortions performed in this state.

Rep. Esther Agbaje, a Minneapolis Democrat, was the chief author of the Reproductive Freedom Defense Act, a bill that anticipates other states will go after patients who travel to Minnesota for abortions.

"This bill ensures Minnesotans can do what is legal and exercise their right in Minnesota without the threat of prosecution from other states," Rep. Agbaje told reporters.

"There’s a chilling effect on providers about the type of health care they can provide and whether they will be prosecuted for giving patients the reproductive healthcare they need."

The bill seeks to strengthen medical record privacy, barring authorities in other states from being able to subpoena abortion clinic patient records. It would also bar the governor and law enforcement agencies from cooperating with officials from other states in pursuit of legal action stemming from legal abortions in Minnesota.

"These bills come with a promise of damaging lawsuits and severe criminal penalties for abortion providers, patients and anyone who would help abortion care," Jess Braverman, legal director of Gender Justice, explained.

"It will prevent Minnesota law enforcement agencies and courts from being hijacked in service of laws that go against our values, and the values of a majority of Minnesotans who support access to safe and legal abortion."

Dr. Sarah Traxler of Planned Parenthood North Central States said that she's seen an influx in patients from states far beyond Minnesota's borders.

"For the first time ever I’m regularly caring for patients from Texas, Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Louisiana and the list goes on and on."

During the floor debate Monday afternoon, Republicans argued that such a law would disrupt relationships Minnesota courts and law enforcement agencies have with their counterparts in other states. They said it would invite legal challenges as a violation of the U.S. Constitution's full faith and credit clause.

"Minnesota has a proud history of standing for our constitutional union," Rep. Harry Niska, a Ramsey Republican, told his colleagues.

"We all stood today and pledged allegiance to one nation, under God, indivisible. Indivisible! We're telling other states even if you get a judgment in your state, if we in Minnesota don't agree with it, we're not enforcing it — but just on this one issue."

Rep. Peggy Scott, an Andover Republican and ardent abortion opponent, said Minnesota shouldn't be creating laws that will exonerate people for breaking laws in other states.

"We're making a law for our state to allow for the breaking of a law in another state, and no one here is going to be held accountable for that!"

St. Paul Democrat Athena Hollins pushed back against those assertions.

"People deserve health care. It's a Minnesota value to provide health care and to take care of people. It doesn't need to get more complicated than that."

The bill passed by 68 votes to 62, mainly along party lines with one southern Minnesota Democrat joining 61 Republicans in voting against it.

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