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Minnesota House committee advances bill protecting abortion providers, patients from out-of-state legal action

DFL lawmakers seek protections for abortion providers, patients
DFL lawmakers seek protections for abortion providers, patients 02:12

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- DFL lawmakers in charge at the Minnesota State Capitol advanced a bill on Tuesday designed protect abortion providers and patients in Minnesota from legal consequences stemming from other states where there are criminal or civil penalties within their borders.

"This legislation would prevent Minnesota's courts and institutions from being hijacked and abused in service of a harmful agenda from those outside of Minnesota," said Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis.

The proposal, dubbed the "Reproductive Freedom Defense Act," would prohibit extraditing, arresting, or releasing medical records of a person who obtained a legal abortion in Minnesota, but may live in a state where abortions are banned or seriously restricted.

Providers also wouldn't face disciplinary action by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice, including the refusal to grant a state license, if they are convicted of providing an abortion elsewhere in the country where it is illegal. The bill would also prevent the enforcement of a subpoena issued in Minnesota or another state, if it's related to a case about ending a pregnancy.

The proposal is a response to action in other states in a post-Roe v. Wade America. Texas, for example allows citizens to sue anyone who "aids or abets" an abortion for a minimum of $10,000 if found to have violated the state's law. In neighboring South Dakota, providing or receiving abortions -- with an exception to preserve the pregnant person's life -- is considered a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison.

"We simply cannot allow other states' dystopian and draconian laws to harm people here in Minnesota," said Sen. Kelly Morrison, DFL-Deephaven, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate. She is also an OB-GYN.

This latest effort from Democrats in the state legislature comes after Gov. Tim Walz signed the PRO Act last week, which enshrines a "fundamental right" to abortion and reproductive health care like contraception and fertility treatments. 

Republicans on the committee Tuesday expressed concern over the bill's provisions, and questioned how they would interact with other Minnesota laws and a clause in the U.S. constitution, which requires states to give the "full faith and credit" to public "acts, records and judicial proceedings" of every other state. The Supreme Court's interpretation of it has evolved with time. 

"It's concerning because the way this bill is written, we don't allow for the full faith and credit of other states, which has been a habit in a number of bills going through here," said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge. "But we're getting more into the extremes of bills being pushed."

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she rejected the characterization by Democrats that other states' laws on abortion are "radical, extreme, dystopian and draconian."

"I would argue that is more applicable to a bill like this," Scott said.

New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Illinois recently passed laws similar to this Minnesota proposal, so-called "shield" laws that are taking shape since the fall of Roe, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Minnesota is on track to become an island for abortion access in the Upper Midwest, with surrounding states banning or likely to further restrict the procedure.

The legislation advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote. There is a separate bill to repeal the state's abortion restrictions on the books, including those not enforceable by a court order like the 24-hour waiting period and parental notification laws.

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