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Minn. Democrats press abortion rights agenda

Members of the legislature's Reproductive Freedom Caucus vow to press ahead with bills that remove barriers to abortion access.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Senate Democrats say they'll pass the same abortion rights bill as the one the House okayed Thursday night, without making any changes.

Lawmakers who belong to the legislature's Legislative Freedom Caucus say they'll resist any efforts by Republicans to add new restrictions that would create barriers for women trying to access that care.

"What we’ve seen over these last painful weeks in the hearings that have moved forward so far is an effort on the part of our opponents to try to negotiate over those fundamental rights," Sen. Erin Murphy, Senate Assistant Majority Leader, told reporters Friday.

"And let us be clear we will not leave this session with a negotiation over those rights, our ability to lead, live freely, make decisions about our bodies freely for ourselves."

Abortion is still legal in Minnesota after the fall of Roe v Wade due to a 1995 decision by the Minnesota Supreme Court that ruled abortion bans violate the state constitution. State Capitol Democrats made it a priority to put that guarantee into state statutes, which is why the bills are labeled House File 1 and Senate File 1.

"They stripped away a right. And over the next months Minnesotans made it very clear that they objected to that, which has brought us to this moment," Murphy remarked.

Democrats plan to pass other bills, including one that would remove the 24-hour waiting period and other abortion restrictions from state law.

"We do not regulate any other health care the way we tackle abortion," Sen. Erin Maye Quade told reporters.

"My bill is like 50 pages long because it is littered with unconstitutional statutes singling out abortion care."

Ramsey County District Judge Robert Gilligan last year ruled many of those restrictions are unconstitutional, when he decided the Doe v. Minnesota lawsuit. That was filed by Gender Justice in 2019 but took three years to wind through the court system.

"Passing that bill is so critical so that hospital systems, and providers are not checking with lawyers before providing care, that there’s a clear landscape," Sen. Lindsey Port, a Burnsville Democrat, explained.

House Action on PRO Act

The Protect Legislative Options Act, or PRO Act, passed the Minn. House Thursday night by a 69 to 65 tally, with just one Democrat joining all 64 Republicans in voting against it.

During the four-hour debate, the Republicans attempted to tack on amendments they asserted would be guardrails that protect pregnant women. Those included requiring licensing and inspections of clinics that perform abortions, limiting those clinics to first trimester abortions, banning third trimester abortions, and outlawing partial birth abortions.

"When you vote for this bill tonight, you are voting for the most extreme abortion policy in the world," Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, the Republican Assistant Minority Leader, asserted during the floor debate Thursday.

"Not only are we giving zero protection to the unborn, we're not even affording protection to the women having these abortions!"

The bill's author, Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthun of Eden Prairie, said the PRO Act doesn't expand abortion rights beyond those currently legal in the state by virtue of the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1995 Doe v Gomez decision. The PRO Act, she asserted, is merely an effort to put that decision into state law so it's more permanent.

"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!"

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