How Minnesota became an island of abortion rights in the Midwest

MinnPost photo by Briana Bierschbach
Two abortion-related bills were supported by Republicans in the House and Senate this year, but neither got close to getting full legislative approval.

For all the trouble they had completing their work this year, Minnesota legislators didn’t get bogged down in one issue that certainly has the ability to bog down a session: abortion. 

Just two bills were brought up in the regular session: One would have banned taxpayer funding (via Medicaid) for abortions; the other would have required strict licensing of any clinic where more than 10 abortions per month were performed. Both bills were supported by Republicans in the House and Senate, but neither got close to getting full legislative approval.

That relative lack of action around the always-contentious issue has made Minnesota a conspicuous outlier among its Midwestern cohorts.  

Across the country, since Republicans won big during the 2010 elections, states have enacted 231 bills restricting abortions, said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, South and North Dakota. The result: today, Minnesota is surrounded by states where abortion rights have been curtailed in recent years. 

In South Dakota, there is only one clinic that offers abortions: a Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls. There’s a 72-hour waiting period between when a woman says she wants an abortion and when she can undergo the procedure. (Weekends and holidays are excluded in the wait time.) And no South Dakota physicians are performing abortions, according to Stoesz, meaning each time an abortion is to be performed a physician from Minnesota must go to Sioux Falls.

Yet, anti-abortion as South Dakota appears, in 2008 the state’s voters rejected an initiative that would have prohibited all abortions, except for when the mother’s health was at stake. 

North Dakota’s story is similar to South Dakota’s. In 2013, the state legislature passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the nation, one that would have prohibited the procedure at the point the heartbeat of the fetus occurs. Typically, that’s at between six to eight weeks.

Last year, however, U.S. District Court Daniel Hovland said the law was unconstitutional. “A woman’s constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy before viability has been recognized by the United States Supreme Court for more than 40 years,’’ Hovland wrote. Viability doesn’t occur until 27 or 28 weeks into a pregnancy. 

Like South Dakotans, North Dakotans proved they may not be as opposed to abortion rights as some thought. In 2014 a “personhood” initiative, which declared “the right to life of every human being at any stage of development’’ was soundly defeated at the polls. Not only did the initiative go down, but two long-time pro-life legislators were defeated. 

Iowa has been relatively quiet, though there has been a strange twist to a law passed in 2013 that requires the state’s governor to approve each publicly funded abortion. The University of Iowa Medical School decided to “stay out of the politics of the issue” by absorbing the costs of abortions that would have needed the approval of Gov. Terry Branstad, a pro-life Republican. 

Wisconsin set to pass new restrictions

But nowhere is the issue more hotly debated right now than in Wisconsin. Since Gov. Scott Walker was elected and the GOP won legislative majorities, there have been a series of abortion restrictions passed. Women seeking abortions are required to undergo ultrasounds. Physicians are banned from performing abortions in hospitals in which they don’t have admitting privileges. Planned Parenthood lost state funding, causing a number of its facilities to close.

And this week, the Republican majority in the Wisconsin senate is expected to pass a bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks. Though the state’s Assembly has yet to put the bill on its calendar, Walker has promised to sign it.

Proponents of the law claim that at 20 weeks a fetus can feel pain, a point Walker touted on a recent interview on CNN. “Whether you’re pro-life or not, that’s a good time to say that shouldn’t be legal after a time when a child can literally feel pain,” he said. But according to Doug Laube, a Madison physician and former president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the oft-mentioned pain theory Walker cited is “junk science.” Studies have shown that, given fetal brain development, it would not be possible for pain to be felt until 26 to 27 weeks of development, Laube says.

But the biggest issue with the bill, Laube says,  “is the safety of the mother.’’ At 20 weeks, doctor and mother are confronted with gut-wrenching legal decisions.  Under the law, the well-being of the fetus — no matter its viability — appears to be placed ahead of the well-being of the mother. A physician who would abort a fetus at 21 weeks could face 3½ years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Dayton’s role

So how did Minnesota become such a conspicuous exception to the recent trend toward further restricting abortions? Gov. Mark Dayton. 

Dayton’s narrow first-term victory came the same year Minnesota Republicans took over the House and Senate. Over the next two years, those GOP majorities passed four bills restricting abortion in various ways. One, similar to the law proposed in Wisconsin, would have banned abortions after 20 weeks. Another would have required the state to license any clinic where abortions are performed. Another would have required a physician to be physically present when prescribing an abortion pill. And a fourth would have prohibited state funding of any abortion. All were vetoed by Dayton.

Those moves have earned the governor plaudits among pro-choice activists. “Minnesota has become a beacon of women’s health,” said Planned Parenthood’s Sarah Stoesz. Echoes Laube, the Madison physician: “People in Minnesota should be glad they live in such an enlightened state.”

Whether Minnesota is “enlightened” depends on your point of view regarding abortion, of course. But prior to the elections of 2010, Minnesota wasn’t such an island. In fact, there was little difference between Minnesota and Wisconsin regarding abortion rights. Now the two states are moving toward opposite ends of the abortion spectrum.

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Comments (50)

  1. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/08/2015 - 11:04 am.

    It is remiss not to disclose that not only is Dr. Laube an abortionist, he’s an unabashed proponent of completely unrestricted abortion.

    Thoughtful readers may wish to take his opinions regarding issues that directly effect his bottom line with a grain of salt.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/08/2015 - 02:42 pm.

      A pregnant woman and her doctor must determine what is needed concerning matters of her health care and the state should have little or nothing to do with it; I suspect that is what Mr. Swift views as completely unrestricted abortion and his willingness for the state to take away a woman’s rights seem to define his politics.

    • Submitted by Crystal Brakke on 06/08/2015 - 02:58 pm.

      Thoughtful reader here…

      …wondering where in that link is evidence to assert that Dr. Laube is “an unabashed proponent of completely unrestricted abortion.”

      As a woman, I am grateful for men like Dr. Laube and Gov. Mark Dayton for their commitment to providing safe, legal access to medical care for women and allowing us to make our own reproductive health decisions.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/08/2015 - 05:33 pm.


        “reproductive health decisions”

        I always enjoy when stopping the beating heart of a human fetus is sterilized by statements like that.

        Since Roe v Wade revolves around the concept of viability, I am curious what 40 years of medical advancement means for the ruling. Personally I think all abortions should take place before 14 weeks.

        • Submitted by Crystal Brakke on 06/08/2015 - 09:58 pm.

          You’re wrongly assuming that reproductive health decisions equals abortion. It does not. There are many different reproductive health decisions women make, ones that do and do not involve pregnancy. Trust me, as I actually AM one.

          Countless court cases over the decades since Roe v. Wade–as noted above–have consistently landed on viability as somewhere between 24-28 weeks. Until there is gold standard scientific evidence to the contrary I expect that will (and should) continue to be the law of the land.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/09/2015 - 07:59 am.

            Time Will Tell

            Times may be a changing… Given the medical advances that are being made, we will have to wait and see.

            “Viability exists as a function of biomedical and technological capacities, which are different in different parts of the world. As a consequence, there is, at the present time, no worldwide, uniform gestational age that defines viability.”


        • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/09/2015 - 07:44 am.


          “enjoy when stopping the beating heart of a human fetus is sterilized by statements like that.”

          i.e. “reproductive health decisions”

          This is a very odd statement for a person to make, especially by someone who does not have to bear personally the consequences of pregnancy or abortion.

          The best way to prevent abortions is contraception. Planned Parenthood, the boogeyman of anti-abortionists, has done more to prevent abortions by providing contraceptive services than any of the anti-abortionists.

          And your personal opinion on preventing all abortions after 14 weeks is irrelevant. This decision is a matter between a woman and her doctor, as the Supreme Court has ruled

          End of discussion.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/09/2015 - 08:25 am.

            Pro Choice Anti Abortion

            Personally, I am pro-choice anti-abortion as strange as that sounds. If the woman is not responsible enough to proactively manage their “reproductive health” and ends up pregnant, then let’s ensure that child is aborted quickly and safely, thus preventing the child from becoming a neglected or abused infant. They should be able to accomplish this by 14 weeks.

            • Submitted by jason myron on 06/09/2015 - 03:11 pm.

              If you’re truly pro-choice

              you cede the rest of your opinion to the mother facing the dilemma. What you described isn’t being pro choice, it’s being pro-judgmental. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations about women facing these situations, but it becomes a lot harder when their stories are up close and personal.

              As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a couple of years as an escort for women at a clinic back in Milwaukee many years ago. I’ve comforted and protected more women than I can count…you sir, have absolutely no right to judge their character or question their actions.

              • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/09/2015 - 03:42 pm.

                Facts vs Judging

                A girl / woman unintentionally gets pregnant in a world with dozens of birth control methods, and that “irrational old fashioned” choice to stay celibate until married. (ie rape is a different issue)

                Then there is always the option to bear the child and then give it up for adoption to a nice couple who really wants a baby.

                Now I support the girl / woman’s right to choose to stop the heart of that fetus to a point, but it sure isn’t going to be my preference and I am not for making it easy later in the pregnancy.

                I realize after years of discussing this with you that you see the fetus as a choice, where as I see it as a little human who is becoming more human everyday of the pregnancy.

                Maybe you can take a shot at answering the question I posed above.

                • Submitted by Bill Gleason on 06/09/2015 - 04:36 pm.

                  Why should anyone feel obliged to answer a question about

                  abortion, posed by you, sir?

                  The matter is settled. You know that. In its wisdom, whether you like it or not, the matter of abortion is decided by a woman and her doctor.

                  “According to a new poll released by the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of Americans support legal abortion.” and “In addition, a whopping 70 percent of Americans oppose the Roe v. Wade decision being overturned, including 57 percent who feel strongly about this.”


                  Your views that a fetus becomes more human every day of the pregnancy are not universally shared. Even St. Thomas Aquinas disagreed with that view. There is another way of looking at it that takes into account the concept of viability.

                  But I am not interested in getting into another useless argument on the matter.

                  The people have spoken.

                  • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/09/2015 - 05:47 pm.

                    Based on This Article

                    Why not? It seems a simple question.

                    Based on this article and the changes that are occurring all around us, it looks like the issue is far from settled.

                    By the way, as mentioned my views match the survey results you mention above. I didn’t recommend overturning Roe v Wade or making first trimester abortions illegal. In fact I would make birth control and first tri abortions easily available. It would likely reduce the poverty and crime rates.


                    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 06/10/2015 - 08:25 am.

                      Now, John…he said Good Day to you Sir!

                    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/11/2015 - 07:40 am.

                      Open Minded

                      I am always puzzled, the more Left leaning commenters here say that their camp is more open to different opinions, however I rarely find it to be the case.

                    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/11/2015 - 01:14 pm.

                      Open minded

                      “Open minded” is not synonymous with “I will let you speak, and then agree with you without any shred of dissent.”

                    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/11/2015 - 03:46 pm.


                      to some, tolerance is defined as “you must acquiesce to my position.” A card that many teavangelicals on the right tend to play quite often.

    • Submitted by jason myron on 06/08/2015 - 08:39 pm.

      This thoughful reader

      welcomes someone of Dr. Laube’s integrity, dedication and commitment to a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health care decisions.

  2. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/08/2015 - 11:32 am.

    “Midwestern values”

    include religious values. It’s apparent that Minnesota has regressed in that area.

    • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/08/2015 - 02:59 pm.

      Regressed? Mr. Tester is as free to hold religious values, midwestern values, or whatever sort of malarky he likes as the gospel truth and Minnesota, like the rest of the states upholding the rights of citizens in this area and others, will leave him alone.

      He and others holding one set of values or another should not impose them on those who don’t hold them, much less impose them on only women; the moment they are permitted to do so, our country will be finished until the rights of citizens are restored.

      The fact that Tester and others in states around the country are willing to invade the privacy, the very wombs of those women considering their health care decisions and restrict their rights by law, is tantamount to secession from this country.

      • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/09/2015 - 06:01 pm.

        Your Belief

        When do you think the fetus / baby has rights that equal those of the Mother’s?

        Not what does Roe v Wade say… What do you believe? I am very curious.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 06/09/2015 - 08:30 pm.

          It’s called birth

          Pretty easy answer.

        • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/09/2015 - 11:13 pm.

          As a matter of law, the answer to your question is either 18 y.o. or 21 y.o. depending on the rights you are considering. As far as a fetus goes, I can’t say; it might depend on what the its potential mother gives it, but I do not think it is anything you, Mr. Appelen, or me have much to say about.

          • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/10/2015 - 09:48 pm.

            REJ BJS INF Society Matters

            So society can set fair minimum wages, can demand that certain behavioral life choices be respected, can set progressive tax rates, etc. However you believe that they can not decide when a fetus becomes a baby?

            Do you support society setting rules for how parents treat minors after they are delivered? Or should that be at the discretion of the Parents also?

            Thankfully SCOTUS disagreed with you by choosing the concept of viability.

        • Submitted by Bill Kahn on 06/09/2015 - 11:32 pm.

          I was forgetting pregnant minors.

          Let us just say that should the fetus reach the age of the mother at its conception, that that the rights of the fetus would equal the mother’s at around that same age, i.e., it has to be born and grow to the same reproductive age of the mother at conception to have the same rights.

          I believe that’s my opinion, and you are welcome to yours; I don’t have a problem with yours or those of others, as long as there is no expectation for them to become the law of the land.

  3. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 06/08/2015 - 02:25 pm.


    …appears to be well along the road to becoming “Mississippi on the St. Croix” thanks to Governor Walker.

  4. Submitted by Bill Willy on 06/08/2015 - 03:43 pm.

    Could this have anything to do with it?

    Female legislators by state (2013).

    Minnesota: 34%

    Wisconsin: 25%

    Iowa: 23%

    South Dakota: 23%

    North Dakota: 17%

    “North Dakota’s story is similar to South Dakota’s. In 2013, the state legislature passed the most restrictive abortion bill in the nation…”

  5. Submitted by David Koller on 06/08/2015 - 03:50 pm.

    Family thought

    My parents were staunch republicans (of course this is the 60s-80s) but differed in two key areas; abortion and education. Having grown up during the depression and WWII they felt education was the way to a better life. And who wouldn’t want an education? They supported every initiative for public school funding even after my brothers and I were out of high school (1974). Their work in emergency rooms (my father a physician, my mother a nurse) exposed them to the tragedy and trauma of self-induced abortions. They knew, as we all know, safe abortions are always available as long as you have enough money. For others the babies died and the mothers died. As my father told when he was over 80 years old, “Legal abortion saves lives and a good education will reduce abortions.”

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/09/2015 - 08:34 am.

      Surely you realize

      that your father’s view is in the minority. Most physicians take the Hippocratic oath seriously that says, in part “… Moreover, I will give no sort of medicine to any pregnant woman, with a view to destroy the child,” which most believe to include abortion.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg on 06/09/2015 - 09:08 am.

        You’re quoting the original version

        From :

        “In a 1989 survey of 126 US medical schools, only three reported use of the original oath, while thirty-three used the Declaration of Geneva, sixty-seven used a modified Hippocratic Oath, four used the Oath of Maimonides, one used a covenant, eight used another oath, one used an unknown oath, and two did not use any kind of oath. Seven medical schools did not reply to the survey.[13]

        In a 2000 survey of US medical schools, all of the then extent medical schools administered some type of profession oath. Among schools of modern medicine, sixty-two of 122 used the Hippocratic Oath, or a modified version of it. The other sixty schools used the original or modified Declaration of Geneva, Oath of Maimonides, or an oath authored by students and or faculty. All nineteen osteopathic schools used the Osteopathic Oath.”


        “While many Christian versions of the Hippocratic Oath, particularly from the middle-ages, explicitly prohibited abortion, the prohibition is often omitted from many oaths taken in US medical schools today, though it remains controversial.”

        So you cannot categorically state that all physicians took an oath that contains the words you quoted.

  6. Submitted by Steve Hoffman on 06/09/2015 - 02:28 pm.


    “Viability” should be defined as “that point at which the parent(s) or concerned Pro Life folks can take the baby home with them.”

    As long as it’s wholly dependent on another person’s body for sustenance, it’s not “viable.”

  7. Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/11/2015 - 01:53 pm.

    The disturbing part of the pro life crowd

    Is that most oppose universal health care in this country. No pro life after birth for every child

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2015 - 04:51 pm.

      Why would it follow

      that because someone has a right to life, they also have a right to free medical care? One is a right from God, the other is a gift from the taxpayers.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 06/11/2015 - 05:17 pm.

        Is that a quote from Jesus?

        I have a feeling that he would feel differently about health care for all.

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/11/2015 - 06:56 pm.

          Think again

          Jesus never once advocated for a government program.

          • Submitted by jason myron on 06/12/2015 - 11:51 am.

            You first.

            Or is this yet another GOP reinterpretation of Jesus as a gun slinging, Rambo who hates the poor and commies with equal vigor? I’m not going out on a limb to think that Jesus would advocate for everyone to have equal access to health care no matter what their financial status.
            Mark 10:21-22 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

            I’ll bet you guys hate that part….

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/13/2015 - 12:09 pm.

            Read What He Said

            While Jesus did not advocate for any specific government program, possibly because He was not registered as a lobbyist, it is clear that He believed in the collective responsibility of a nation to take care of anyone. See Matthew 25:31–46.

            Unless you meant a different Jesus. I understand it is a common name in some parts of the world.

      • Submitted by Logan Foreman on 06/11/2015 - 08:39 pm.

        Or right Tester,

        The child has a right to life but no right to live after birth if he or she requires health care. What typical republican thought process.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/11/2015 - 09:01 pm.

        Would it also follow down the rabbit hole:

        That cancer, polio, etc. etc. etc are also all gifts or burdens to bear given right from …. ? Or do we pick and chose which bodily issues, hair, beard growth we are allowed to alter. dispose of etc. and which we can not, and that is written in the book of?

  8. Submitted by John Appelen on 06/12/2015 - 07:30 am.

    Open Minded

    “”Open minded” is not synonymous with “I will let you speak, and then agree with you without any shred of dissent.” RB

    “to some, tolerance is defined as “you must acquiesce to my position.” ” Jason

    To me being open minded is to show a willingness to discuss both perspectives with an understanding that both views have some validity. I have found over the years that people closer to moderate have an easier time doing this than those closer to the fringes.

    Usually you can tell quickly by their use of absolutes. “It is settled” “They are the problem” “absolutely no right” “they are the heroes” etc

  9. Submitted by jason myron on 06/12/2015 - 10:56 am.


    Moderates don’t disparage the poor for their plight, think the unemployed should be cleaning the streets for their benefits, call women irresponsible when they want to make their own reproductive health care decisions and whine abut the collapse of America if the minimum wage is raised. So you can dispense with the suggestion that you’re some sort of moderate. You’re free to have any political view you want, John. Just make sure you own up to what it really is.

    • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/12/2015 - 05:03 pm.

      Owning up

      A. Disparage may be a strong word. I believe in natural consequences. If you are given welfare, free K-12 education, many government higher ed programs, and you choose to get pregnant early and be a single parent, instead of striving to learn, be academically successful and delay having children until you are secure and mature enough to handle them, I think you are very likely to stay poor and there is little that anyone else can do to help you. The same applies to all single parent households since paying the rent and food bill on one income, and raising kids by oneself would be tough.

      Please remember that I am pro-early education grants and anti-seniority Union practices that limit the help these kids get from the status quo public schools.

      B. Yes I think people on welfare could do some simple local tasks to offset the cost of their benefits. One being cleaning the streets / right of ways in their neighborhoods. Ironically some of the most littered communities I have driven through are the high welfare neighborhoods. I think they can give back to their community with what they have… Their time. And if they start doing the cleaning I am pretty sure they will start looking out for the litterers.

      C. I am happy when women take responsibility and make their own reproductive healthcare decisions. I think young unmarried women who accidentally get pregnant because they did not have the self discipline to abstain from sex or use birth control correctly are irresponsible. The girls who also choose to have a baby to trap and boy or some bonding thing I also find irresponsible and immature. As for abortion, I think a responsible woman should be able to get that done by 14 weeks or 20 weeks at the latest.

      D. I don’t think America will collapse if the minimum wage is raised. I think the cost of doing business in America will increase, so prices will increase, automation will increase, more jobs will go over seas, American Consumers will buy more product and services from over seas because they will be that much cheaper, etc. As I have said, it will have little impact on people like me. However the low skill employees will be paying more for things and there may be fewer jobs for them.

      • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/13/2015 - 04:34 pm.

        Ok how about?

        A. Natural consequences: Should society throw these folks in the streets or in jail? The natural consequence to neglect of the masses is domestic insurrection, founders knew that over 200 years ago “insure domestic tranquility”
        B. We agree
        C. What about the guy? What is his role or doesn’t he have one, or wasn’t he part of the responsibility? Seems a very sexist perspective.
        D. See A. Sorry to inform, it isn’t all about, me and us. “Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity”
        Those words from the founders tell us what the objective is and are more important than the constitution words that follow .

        • Submitted by John Appelen on 06/13/2015 - 11:18 pm.


          A. “Neglect the Masses”? See, I don’t think the masses are that irresponsible, I think a minority of the citizens fall into this category.. Jail isn’t a good idea, however I don’t think giving people more from the public funds (ie successful tax payers) when they make bad choices is a good idea either. (ie promote irresponsible behavior, more kids more money, less effort more money, etc)

          The question is how do we dissuade them from making poor choices and encourage the to make good choices? Some tough love may be necessary.

          C. Sorry. Jason’s comment was regarding women and it is the woman who has authority over her body for the most part. (ie except for rape) Unless we want Fathers to have right to block the Woman having an abortion. As for the men, if paternity is known I am happy to have the proper authorities collect child support or make them pay for the abortion. There also needs to be negative consequences for the man being irresponsible.

          D. Paying people more than their education, skills, efforts, the position, etc warrants is just hiding the problem. When we give work tax credits, health insurance tax credit, childcare tax credits food stamps, and child tax credits, we know how big the problem is and limit the extra costs to those who really need the help. Besides the fact that they are paid for mostly by the upper middle class and wealthy tax payers, not everyone including the poor and fixed income seniors.

          I wonder if the founders envisioned American Consumers purchasing themselves right out of good jobs? The consumers are already getting the low cost goods they desire, now you want others to give them extra money to make up for that choice. Which ironically they will then spend on more low cost foreign goods. And if we don’t give them money to make up for questionable choices, you are concerned they will rebel. It is possible…

          • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 06/15/2015 - 07:49 pm.

            Cut the cake

            A. Most of us don’t like what we got, but struggle to propose a viable alternative.
            D. We agree
            There area a lot of things the founders didn’t see and things they did see.
            Best answer: Folks need to work for a living. Now how do we get there?

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