Fifty years ago, on Jan. 22, 1973, abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy became legal throughout our nation. States had to prove a “compelling interest” to regulate pregnancy during the second trimester, before fetal viability. I was 15 years old, not knowing and later not fully appreciating that I would have the right to abortion care and birth control throughout my reproductive years.
On June 24, 2022, an otherwise sunny Friday, I watched as a differently minded, decidedly more conservative U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and threw decisions about abortion rights back to individual states. It was the bleakest day for American women in my lifetime and a major setback for the generation that includes my two grown sons.
Since then, Minnesota has become an island of abortion rights in the Upper Midwest. Thirteen states have enacted outright abortion bans, without exceptions for rape or incest (in Mississippi an abortion after rape might be allowed). Wisconsin and South Dakota are among the restrictive 13; a judge currently is blocking the outright ban in North Dakota and Iowa has a partial ban, according to data tracking by the New York Times.
That makes passage of the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act an essential first step for the DFL-controlled Legislature in Minnesota – more important than legalized cannabis and even paid family leave, which are among the top priorities for the liberal legislators who control both the House and Senate for the first time in a decade.
Introduced in February 2021 by a state legislator who is an OB-GYN, the PRO Act wraps abortion rights into a broader package that includes contraception, fertility treatment and more. That is in line with current thinking – visible on Planned Parenthood T-shirts and on signs at protest rallies – that “abortion is healthcare.”
Not an easy decision, for many of us who have made the choice, but surely not a source of shame. Instead, abortion is a right that the Pew Research Centers say 61% of Americans support.
How safe is Minnesota?
Plenty of pro-choice activists in Minnesota will point to a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision, Doe v. Gomez, and say that abortion rights are “enshrined” in our state constitution. To which I, a non-attorney, will respond warily, “Yes, but.”
Doe v. Gomez declared that the state constitution protects abortion rights based on a “fundamental right to privacy.” If that sounds eerily like Roe v. Wade – which, likewise, turned on privacy as an argument to protect abortion – then you’ll see why the PRO Act is both foundational and essential.
It renders abortion rights not just a legal precedent but a law. Doe v. Gomez, by contrast, places women’s bodily autonomy at the whims of a state supreme court that, with a different makeup, and in another time and place, could overturn the 1995 decision.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision felled abortion rights this past June, healthcare providers have seen an increase in women from other states coming to Minnesota for abortion care. Significantly, the PRO Act would protect those women, too, even if they live in a state like Texas, where so-called vigilante justice – in true Wild West fashion – allows citizens to file suit against abortion providers or anyone who helps a woman obtain an abortion.
The personal is political
Abortion rights no longer apply to me directly. I got my last full-on menstrual period in a filthy bathroom in India in the fall of 2006 and over the next couple of years would experience only intermittent spotting before concluding what the National Institute on Aging calls “the menopausal transition.” My childbearing years were over, at 52.
And yet my abortion rights activism has ramped up, in both passion and persistence, the older I have become. “Planned Parenthood Is Here for Good,” the marketing handle reads, and I wholeheartedly endorse the double meaning of that message.
My first volunteer gig for Planned Parenthood, in January 2018, was to phone people to verify whether they had health insurance and, if not, make them aware of the MNsure enrollment deadline. I have tabled at events, yelled myself hoarse at rallies, made calls for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on behalf of pro-choice candidates. Our actions could not save Roe.
So, we are left with the next best option in Minnesota: to remain a haven for women who need essential healthcare, to demonstrate the compassion that characterizes this high-tax state. And to urge our legislators, and ultimately Gov. Tim Walz, to protect a freedom that treats pregnant people as the thinking, responsible, autonomous adults they are.
I owe that to my sons, one of whom already has had a vasectomy. I owe it to younger women. We owe it to the folks beyond our borders who are turning to us for help. Minnesota … pass the PRO Act and show the nation who we are.
Amy Gage volunteers with Planned Parenthood North Central States and is the mother of two grown sons. She lives in St. Paul.