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What we know about abortions in Minnesota

With the leak of a SCOTUS draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, where do we stand here in Minnesota when it comes to abortions? 

In Minnesota, abortions are legal up to the point of fetal viability — or the time at which a fetus could survive outside the uterus.
In Minnesota, abortions are legal up to the point of fetal viability — or the time at which a fetus could survive outside the uterus.
REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

On Monday night, Politico reported that a leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion — not a final ruling — suggested the court may overturn federal abortion rights it ruled on in 1973’s Roe v. Wade and upheld in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

The draft report set off a bonfire of speculation about whether the court would actually overturn the cases when it releases its final opinion in the coming months, the effect such a decision would have on states’ abortion laws, as well as what the political implications could be for the upcoming midterm elections.

If U.S. Supreme Court ends the federal protection for abortion, it would not necessarily make abortion illegal in Minnesota. In 1995, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled the right to abortion is protected by the state’s Constitution, and it’s regulated by state law. Here’s a look at what Minnesota’s abortion laws are and what we know about who gets abortions in the state.

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Minnesota’s abortion laws

In Minnesota, abortions can generally be obtained up to the point of  fetal viability — or the time at which a fetus could potentially survive outside the uterus. That’s typically thought to be at about 24 weeks of gestation, said Laura Hermer, a professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. There are exceptions if the life of the mother is in danger or if there’s a fetal anomaly incompatible with life. 

Minnesota has a 24-hour waiting period, and also has an informed consent law. “There’s a script that has to be read, there are specific issues that must be discussed with the patient,” Hermer said.

In Minnesota, abortions must be provided by physicians. They cannot be performed by registered nurses or physician assistants.

There can also be felony penalties for people who break the law.

“If you don’t don’t provide the script that Minnesota mandates, then the penalties are a felony,” Hermer said. “If you’re a nurse midwife, or a certified nurse practitioner [who are not physicians] and you provide an abortion, you have felony penalties.”

Minnesota also requires both parents of a minor to be notified of their child’s abortion procedure.

Declining abortion rates

The Minnesota Department of Health’s Center for Health Statistics collects and publishes data annually on who gets abortions, when in pregnancy they happen and how they are conducted. The most recent report came out in 2021 and covers 2020.

The number of abortions induced in Minnesota has declined dramatically over the years, from more than 19,000 in 1980 to fewer than 10,000 each year since 2018. In terms of the state’s population, the rate has gone from 17.2 to 7.6 abortions per 1,000 female residents age 15 to 44 between 1980 and 2020.

When it comes to people getting abortions in Minnesota, most are in their 20s, are residents of Minnesota, and many have previously given birth to children, state data show.

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Of 9,108 abortions induced in Minnesota in 2020, 8,249 were among Minnesota residents. 859 people traveled to Minnesota from other states — mostly nearby — or other countries, in one case, for the procedure.

2020 Minnesota abortion patients' place of residence
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Statistics

In terms of age, most people seeking abortions are in their 20s.

Age of 2020 Minnesota abortion patients
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Statistics

Data from the state show Minnesota residents receiving abortions in Minnesota are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, Asian and Indigenous. 

Race and ethnicity of Minnesota resident abortion patients and all Minnesotans, 2020
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Statistics, Minnesota Compass

When answering why they were seeking abortions, patients could choose multiple options. The most common stated reasons were not wanting children at the time, economic reasons, and concerns for emotional and physical health.

Patients' reasons for having an abortion
Note: Patients could choose multiple options. *"Other stated reason" included "Relationship issues, including abuse, separation, divorce, or extra-marital affairs" (45 responses); "Not ready or prepared for a child or more children at this time or family already completed" (38); "Physical or mental health issues or concerns" (23); "Education, career and employment issues" (13); "COVID-19/Pandemic" (11), and Other (110).
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Statistics

Thirty-nine percent of 2020 Minnesota abortion patients reported no previous live births, while 61 percent reported having one or more previously.

Sixty percent of people who got abortions in 2020 reported never previously having an abortion.

Of patients who received abortions, 82 percent were not married, while 15 percent were married. The marital status of 3 percent were not reported.

Few complications

The report also includes data on gestation and method of abortion. It shows the majority of aborted fetuses are estimated to be under 9 weeks, and most abortions are induced via medication.

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In 2020, 70 percent of abortions occurred at less than nine weeks of gestation. Ninety-nine percent were estimated to be less than 24 weeks, while 1 percent were not reported.

Estimated fetal gestational age upon abortion in Minnesota, 2020
Source: Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Statistics

Fifty-five percent of abortions were induced with medication, while 45 percent were done surgically, most via dilation and curettage, which involves dilating the cervix and removing tissue from the uterus.

Of the 9,108 induced abortions, no complications were reported during the procedure in 9,000. Eighty-nine post-operative complications were reported, most often incomplete termination of pregnancy.

Correction: This article previously misstated the law surrounding abortions after fetal viability in Minnesota. This article clarifies that prohibitions on abortion after fetal viability were struck down, though they are generally followed in practice.