In a stunning but anticipated move, the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion across the country, leaving Minnesota in a position to absorb the abortion needs of surrounding states.
The court’s historic decision strips abortion from protection under the federal constitution, and allows each state to determine whether abortion is legal in their jurisdiction.
Abortion access is expected to remain unchanged in Minnesota for the time being because of a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision protecting that right. However, local health experts said overturning Roe disproportionately harms people of color, and will prompt residents from surrounding states that ban abortion to flock to Minnesota for abortion services.
“With an overturning of Roe v. Wade, we can expect to see as high as a 371 percent increase in patients coming from our neighboring states,” said Asha Hassan, a reproductive health researcher with the U of M’s Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity. “There’s some estimates that say that we can expect a 21 percent increase [nationally] in pregnancy-related deaths for all populations … And for Black folks, we can expect to see up to a 33 percent increase, which is, of course, significantly worse.”
A draft of the Supreme Court decision was leaked to the media in May, but the forewarning did little to blunt reaction to Friday’s announcement. The court voted 5-4 to overturn Roe, with conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett voting in favor. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan filed a joint dissent.
Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts did not vote to overturn Roe, nor did he join the dissent.
“What the Supreme Court just did is an outrage,” tweeted U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar. “A woman has a right to make her own health care choices … From now until November, we fight.”
Asha said the court’s ruling will lead to serious consequences for pregnant people, particularly in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities.
“A forced pregnancy carries serious risks—health risks, financial risks, educational risks,” she said. “It makes it harder for people who are pregnant to leave abusive partners.”
Asha’s also concerned about the potential criminalization of “self-managed abortions,” which she describes as people obtaining prescription abortion pills through unsanctioned sources outside of a health clinic. More than half of all abortions are now conducted by taking one of two pills.
Asha predicted that Minnesota clinics will become stressed by the uptick in patients, leading to longer wait times. In response, she said, some patients might decide to obtain abortion medicine illegally.
Minnesota leaders react
Minnesota leaders were quick to criticize Friday’s ruling and assure that abortion access would not change in the state.
“This ruling changes nothing in Minnesota today, tomorrow, or as long as I am governor,” tweeted Governor Tim Walz. “We will not turn back the clock on reproductive rights. Minnesotans deserve to decide for themselves when to make the most important decision of their lives–whether or not to become a parent.”
“Access to abortion and reproductive health care is about economic and racial justice,” tweeted Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “Access to abortion is about ensuring Minnesotans can make their own choices and build their own futures.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also defended abortion access. The high court’s ruling means state attorneys generals across the country will play a role in enforcing any abortion bans that are put in place.
At a news conference Friday afternoon, Ellison promised to legally protect people from out of sate who travel to Minnesota for abortions.
“If somebody comes to Minnesota, avails themselves of their constitutional rights and goes back home, I will follow them there and file motions in court if somebody tries to prosecute them for getting an abortion in Minnesota,” Ellison said.
However, Ellison added that other states don’t have legal jurisdiction to prosecute people who conduct legal activity in Minnesota.
Ellison said he would stop any Minnesota county attorney who tries to prosecute someone for getting an abortion. Ellison said that would involve him asking the governor to appoint his office to intervene in the case.
He added that Minnesota prosecutors don’t have legal authority to charge someone for getting an abortion in Minnesota because of the state Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the right to an abortion.
Access at risk in 26 states
Thirteen states have “trigger bans” that will make abortion illegal within 30 days of Friday’s ruling. Planned Parenthood North Central States issued a statement noting that South Dakota and North Dakota have trigger bans, but that abortion “remains safe and legal” in Minnesota, Iowa, and Nebraska.
Planned Parenthood North Central States operates 28 health centers across the five-state region. The organization said it stopped scheduling abortions in South Dakota, and that pending appointments in the state “will not resume.” It does not operate a health center in North Dakota.
“When we performed our last abortion in South Dakota, the last patient I saw had a story very similar to many I see,” said Dr. Sarah Traxler, Planned Parenthood North Central States Chief Medical Officer. “She was a young mother who already had children struggling to make ends meet and couldn’t imagine bringing another child into that circumstance. She was able to make decisions for her and her family that were right for her…for women of South Dakota, this is no longer a reality.”
The organization said the ruling “places the future of safe and legal abortion in the hands of state lawmakers and puts abortion access at risk in 26 states.”
Dr. Rachel Hardeman, Director of Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity at the University of Minnesota, said many people of color don’t have the resources–money, transportation, and time off of work–to travel out of their state to obtain safe, legal abortions.
“Oh man, that’s what breaks my heart,” Hardeman said. “Obviously, we know it’s dangerous and unjust for all people, but the burden will fall hardest on Black, Indigenous and other racialized groups–as well as nonbinary people and people with lower socioeconomic resources.
“It’s a devastating blow to the racial justice movement and women’s rights, generally.”
Dr. Anna Hing said the ruling will impact Minnesota’s Southeast Asian immigrant communities, which could become fearful of obtaining abortions legally.
“We already know that immigrants can be fearful of accessing U.S. healthcare,” said Hing, a post-doctoral associate at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity. “Anytime you’re accessing an institution–if you’re in a precarious legal state–you may be putting yourself at more of a risk, so that fear will play into accessing abortion.”
At St. Paul’s Hmongtown Marketplace, Hailey Kassulker and N. Yang expressed their dismay about the ruling.
“I feel like we’re going backward in time,” said Kassulker, 29. “It doesn’t make sense to me. It feels really sad that as women, we are not given that choice for reproductive freedom.”
Yang, who is in her 40s, said she was upset with Democratic leadership for not fighting hard enough over the years to prevent Friday’s ruling. Yang, who is Hmong, said the ruling is a step back for her community because many don’t trust the government.
“To have the government have a say on how many children you can have and what you can do as a woman to your reproductive system–they’re going to freak out,” Yang said of her community.
Shayla Walker, the executive director of Our Justice, a Minnesota nonprofit that provides funds for abortion access, noted the irony of the decision coming just days after Juneteenth—a June 19 holiday celebrating self-determination and the end of slavery in the United States. Black people and other marginalized communities have historically not been protected by law, she noted.
“We know that the powers that be never meant to protect us,” she said. “We had to be creative, and we had to find solutions within ourselves and within our communities to make sure that we were able to get the things that we need. So we’re resourceful, we’re resilient. But I can’t say there’s not going to be a lot of hardships, a lot of sadness, a lot of sorrow.”
Minnesota has seen a glimpse of a post-Roe future. At the beginning of the pandemic, one of Minnesota’s major abortion providers switched to online-only services, Walker said, which created long waiting lists at Planned Parenthood for in-person procedures. Our Justice helped Minnesotans travel to Seattle and Colorado for abortions.
Our Justice has helped about 10 people from Texas access abortion in Minnesota this year. Now that Minnesota is bracing to take in patients from around the Midwest, Minnesotans can expect long waits to access care, Walker said.
“It’s probably going to look like four-week waiting times–possibly longer,” she said. “Minnesotans are really going to feel it. Even though our state is protected, they’re going to have to share that protection with their neighbors.”