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

Minnesota House passes bill protections abortion providers, patients from out-of-state legal action
Minnesota House passes bill protecting abortion providers, patients from out-of-state legal action 01:55

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota House on Monday approved a bill designed to protect patients and providers from legal consequences in other states where abortions are illegal. 

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 with criminal or civil penalties associated with the procedure.

It passed on 68-62 vote.

"These increasingly radical restrictive laws are designed to ban abortion outright. They're not based on science. They're not based on health care, and they are disrupting the legal landscape regarding rights related to health care. As Minnesotans we cannot stand idly by," said Rep. Esther Agbaje, DFL-Minneapolis. "This bill ensures that Minnesotans can do what is legal and exercise their rights in Minnesota without the threat of prosecution from other states."

Under the bill's language, 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's a crime. The bill would also prevent the enforcement of a subpoena issued in Minnesota or another state, if it's related to a potential violation of law restricting abortion.

Bill supporters say it's a direct response to other states that have moved to restrict abortion since the fall of Roe vs. Wade last summer.

Agbaje during a news conference ahead of the floor vote specifically named Texas, which empowers its 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, both providing or receiving abortions -- with an exception to preserve the pregnant person's life – are considered felonies, punishable by up to two years in prison.

Republicans condemned the bill, calling it extreme. They expressed concern over the bill's provisions, including allowing someone convicted of a felony related to abortion laws elsewhere to still obtain a license to practice medicine in Minnesota.

"This bill completely obliterates any respect for the rule of law," Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. "The state of Minnesota must disregard a felony offense, or any other conviction related to things that the Democrats really care about here."

Others questioned if it runs afoul of 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.

"I guess the only good news is, if this bill becomes law, it won't stand," Neu Brindley said.

The move by the Minnesota House comes two months after Gov. Tim Walz signed the Protect Reproductive Options Act into law, which codifies a fundamental right to abortion, contraception, fertility treatment and more. Protecting abortion rights is a top DFL priority now that Democrats have control of the legislature and governor's office.

Seven other states have passed similar "shield" laws aimed at protecting people from out-of-state legal actions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights.

In 13 states, abortion is banned, with others' bans and restrictive laws blocked by court orders.

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said she now regularly sees patients from outside of Minnesota who travel here for an abortion. People come from places as far away as Texas, Alabama, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Louisiana, she said, when she used to just occasionally see patients from neighboring states.

"Our new abortion landscapes since the [Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision by the U.S. Supreme Court] is dangerous," Traxler said. "It's outrageous to think that a pregnant person's medical treatment is determined by politics and not by them or their health care provider."

The state legislature is also considering a bill to repeal abortion restrictions on the books, including those not enforceable a court decision last summer, like a 24-hour waiting period and parental notification.

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