Abortion opponents try to regroup after losing ground in Minnesota

Published 8:27 am Monday, January 22, 2024

By Dana Ferguson

Abortion opponents who have long turned out in big numbers for an annual demonstration at Minnesota’s Capitol find themselves gathering amid cross currents this year, given laws that limit access in many states while protections are stronger than ever here.

The 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upended a nationwide right to a legal abortion has reverberated differently in Minnesota, where all-Democratic statehouse control has translated into new laws ensuring abortion access.

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That’s the backdrop for Monday’s rally by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which has been held annually to mark the anniversary of when the now-overturned Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973.

MCCL leaders say their aim this year is to illustrate the impact that new state laws around reproductive health care have had. They’ll do that by creating an installation placing 12,000 fetal models on the Capitol steps.

“We will be focusing on the 12,175 unborn lives that were aborted in Minnesota, just in 2022,” said Cathy Blaeser, co-executive director of MCCL.

The changes solidifying abortion access and rolling back legal restrictions are more than most Minnesotans are willing to accept, opponents said. Heading into the 2024 legislative session, they’re hoping to press legislators to rescind some of their new laws, an uphill task because the political array remains unchanged from the prior session.

“The policies that are being set forth, particularly by the Walz administration and the DFL leadership, the laws that they are putting in place, and the protections for women and unborn children that they are tearing out of our legal code are doubling the number of abortions,” Blaeser said.

Medical providers have reported an uptick in abortions since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a half-century of legal precedent in 2022. A 2021 Department of Health report, recorded 10,136 induced abortions that year; the most recent statistics for 2022 show a 20 percent increase that year.

The increase is attributed to clinics here treating more patients traveling from states where abortion has been banned or seriously restricted.

The DFL-led Legislature last year guaranteed the right to abortion and other reproductive health care in state law. They also set in place legal protections for people seeking abortions and those who provide them and rolled back restrictions that had been on the books for decades.

DFL leaders and abortion access advocates said most of the changes cemented the status quo that was decided by the courts. Moving forward, they said they’ll have to adjust Minnesota’s policies as more conservative states continue limiting access.

“As our neighbors, neighboring states, have continued to create obstacles or criminalize abortion, it’s just that much more important that Minnesota remain a state where people can get the access to the care that they need,” Gender Justice Executive Director Megan Peterson said.

Both those opposed to legal abortion and people who advocate for access said they will make their case to state lawmakers this year and press this issue heavily on the campaign trail.

Lawmakers will return for the 2024 legislative session in three weeks.

“When we go out and talk to people and explain what happened, they are appalled. And they are activated and motivated to make a difference,” the MCCL’s Blaeser said. “This is too extreme. This is not who Minnesota is. And this is not what we want. I think our legislators will be hearing from every one of our members.”

DFL leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz said they’re ready for the challenge and will keep defending abortion access. It has boosted Democratic fortunes at the ballot box, too, in recent elections.

As part of their work this year, legislators plan to consider putting before voters an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would guarantee equal rights under the law no matter someone’s race, class, gender identity, background and other qualities. It would also prohibit discrimination for those who terminate a pregnancy. That could appear on the ballot as soon as this fall.

“Minnesota will remain that island of decency and access for health care,” Walz said during a news conference at Planned Parenthood earlier this month. “I’ll continue to talk about it.”

Whether there is a proposed constitutional amendment up for ratification, Walz predicted abortion would be high on the minds of voters. “It will definitely be on the ballot,” he said.