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Minnesota Democrats are discussing abortion rights constitutional amendment, House Speaker says

Minnesota House Speaker Hortman discusses possibility of abortion rights codification
Minnesota House Speaker Hortman discusses possibility of abortion rights codification 02:04

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Minnesota Democrats in the state legislature are considering passing a constitutional amendment to protect abortion rights next session, which could put the issue before voters as early as next fall, House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Tuesday.

Access to the procedure is already protected by a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision and a recent state law that states people have a "fundamental right" to abortion, contraception and fertility treatments. An amendment would add language to the state constitution, another layer of defense. 

"It was a very motivating issue for us as members running for re-election and for our candidates, and definitely for voters, so those conversations definitely continue," the top House Democrat told WCCO in an interview. "We're in the interim period now. We have a part-time citizen legislature. But as we get ready for the next session, that is certainly something that we're talking about whether or not to have as part of our 2024 agenda."

After the fall of Roe v. Wade, states vary in their policies—some seriously restrict or ban it, while others are doubling down on protections. But in the seven states where the issue has been put on the ballot since the reversal of that decision, abortion rights supporters have prevailed each time.

The latest victory came in Ohio on Tuesday when voters decisively approved a ballot measure adding abortion rights to their constitution. 

"It's not surprising to me that the issue remains really salient to voters," Hortman said of the results. 

For now, she said she hasn't heard getting the issue on the ballot is a top priority for Minnesotans next session, but that could change if there are threats of a federal ban or restrictions. The measure would need to pass both chambers of the DFL-led legislature next year and Hortman said lawmakers could choose to put it before voters in 2024, or wait until 2026.

"A lot of different factors impact whether a constitutional amendment is successful. And usually it's good for voters to have time to learn about the issue and for there to become an organized campaign to educate voters about an issue," she explained. "So those are things that we'll be taking into account as we decide whether to do it and if we do it, when to do it."

Despite the setbacks, opponents of abortion in Minnesota are undeterred. Cathy Blaeser, co-executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said voters she talks to think Minnesota's laws on abortion go too far. 

In addition to the "Protect Reproductive Options Act," lawmakers passed a so-called "shield law" protecting people who travel to Minnesota for an abortion from states where it's restricted. They also repealed existing laws on the books–like a 24-hour waiting period, an informed consent provision–and ensured abortions are covered by medical assistance. 

Blaeser said taken together, Minnesota's laws are "extreme."

"When we go out and talk to Minnesotans across the state and explain what our law is—what was passed by the 2023 legislature—they are appalled that our abortion laws rival that of China or North Korea," she said. "They want to see those walked back to more reasonable laws."

when we got out and explain what our law is what the 2023 legislature passed, they are appalled"

Constitutional amendments to protect abortion access are already on the ballot in Maryland and New York, two states where abortion remains legal after Roe was overturned. But other states are considering similar measures, according to the Associated Press. 

Lawmakers return for the 2024 legislative session in February. 

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