Bill supporters rallied outside the Minnesota House of Representatives on Monday, March 20, 2023, ahead of a vote on a proposal to offer legal protections for patients that travel to Minnesota for abortions and for providers. Credit: Dana Ferguson | MPR News

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The Minnesota House of Representatives voted 68-62 Monday for a bill that would offer legal protections to patients who travel to Minnesota for an abortion and the providers that treat them.

State leaders have said they are taking steps to offer those legal defenses now but DFL lawmakers at the Capitol said it was important to guarantee the protections in law.

“The overturning of Roe v Wade has led to harmful laws attacking not only abortion rights, but also individual liberties and privacy more broadly,” said the bill’s author, Representative 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.” 

If passed by the Senate and signed into law, the bill would prevent state courts or officials from complying with extraditions, arrests, or subpoenas related to reproductive health care that a person receives in Minnesota.

Minnesota would join seven other states that shield patients and providers against legal penalties in other states when it comes to accessing reproductive health care here.

It would also allow a person facing an abortion-related case against them in another state to countersue for the costs, damages and attorney’s fees associated with defending the case.

Minnesota abortion providers said the legal protections would help them practice without fear of lawsuits or criminal penalties from other states. 

“Our new abortion landscape since the Dobbs decision is dangerous, and it’s putting patients and healthcare providers at severe risk. And it’s only going to get worse as we see more states introduce Texas style aid and abet laws,” Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical director for Planned Parenthood North Central States, said. 

Traxler noted that she has seen an uptick in patients coming to Minnesota from other states due to bans or restrictions elsewhere.

Dr. Sarah Traxler, chief medical director of Planned Parenthood North Central States, speaking at a news conference Monday, March 20. Credit: Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Laws in Texas and Oklahoma allow private citizens to sue anyone they think has “aided or abetted” a resident in obtaining an abortion in those states. And they’re eligible under the law to receive $10,000 or more.

Other states, including Minnesota’s neighbors, have bans or restrictions on abortion and those who violate them are subject to civil and criminal penalties.

During floor debate, some Republicans argued that the bill staked out an extreme position and showed a lack of respect for the rule of law. 

“This is a dangerous bill that makes Minnesota an outlier,” Representative Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said. “This is a bill that is going to give Minnesota a black eye in many respects, and that’s sad.”

Outside the chamber, dozens of the bill’s supporters held up signs and cheered “abortion is health care” as lawmakers prepared for debate. 

The legislation wouldn’t cover physicians who prescribe medications that induce an abortion and send them to another state that prohibits abortion. Traxler said that Planned Parenthood only prescribes to patients who obtain those medications in the state of Minnesota.

Dana Ferguson is a politics reporter covering the Minnesota Capitol and elections for MPR News.