Minnesota just became the first post-Roe state to make abortion a right

The PRO Act also includes protections for contraception access and fertility services.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz holds up a piece of legislation, surrounded by supporters of the PRO Act.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signs a bill to add a fundamental right to abortion access into state law on Tuesday, January 31, 2023. Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via Getty Images

On January 31, Governor Tim Walz of Minnesota signed the Protect Reproductive Options Act (PRO Act) into law, enshrining the “fundamental right” to access abortion in the state. 

It is now the first state to codify abortion rights via legislative action since in the wake of the United States Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade in June 2022.  This lifted the federal right to an abortion, and states have reacted differently across the nation. Abortion was immediately illegal in multiple states due to trigger laws banning abortion, and two states (Texas and Indiana) prohibit the use of medication abortion starting at a specific point in pregnancy. Meanwhile, eight primarily blue states have laws protecting this right already on the books. Earlier in January, Illinois Governor JB Prizker signed a bill solidifying the state as a refuge for those seeking abortions. 

“This is very simple, very right to the point,” Walz said of the new Minnesota legislation in an interview with CNN. “We trust women in Minnesota, and that’s not what came out of the [Supreme Court’s] decision, so I think it’s critically important that we build a fire wall.”

[Related: FDA takes big step to make abortion pills as accessible as other prescription drugs.]

While abortion was already legal in Minnesota, the PRO Act goes a step further. It states that the local government can’t restrict a person’s ability to exercise the “fundamental right” to reproductive freedom. Additionally, it clarifies that this right extends to multiple areas of reproductive health, including contraception access, sterilization, fertility services, family planning, and counseling regarding reproductive health care.

“Last November, Minnesotans spoke loud and clear: They want their reproductive rights protected—not stripped away,” Walz said. “Today, we are delivering on our promise to put up a firewall against efforts to reverse reproductive freedom. No matter who sits on the Minnesota Supreme Court, this legislation will ensure Minnesotans have access to reproductive health care for generations to come. Here in Minnesota, your access to reproductive health care and your freedom to make your own health care decisions are preserved and protected.”

Ahead of the signing, Republican legislature leaders argued that the bill went too far and called the bill “extreme.”

Currently, abortion is considered illegal at all stages of pregnancy (with some varying exceptions) in 13 states, including neighboring South Dakota and Wisconsin. Bans are on hold in several states, including nearby North Dakota, pending challenges in court. Minnesota could possibly see an even greater surge of patients coming into the state for care due to these restrictions.

[Related: What science tells us about abortion bans.]

The governor, legislative leaders, and sponsors of the bill said the PRO Act provides a critical new layer of protection if the composition of the Minnesota state court were to change. 

“To Minnesotans, know that your access to reproductive health, and your right to make your own health care decisions, are preserved and protected,” Walz said. “And because of this law, that won’t change with the political winds and the makeup of the Supreme Court.”

Based on data, abortion bans are an ineffective way of preventing abortions in the first place, and the lack of access can have serious negative impacts on health. A 2018 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that the four major methods of abortion used in the United States are safe and warned that common restrictions on abortion (including waiting periods) make a very safe procedure more risky.