2022 Changemaker: UnRestrict Minnesota Coalition

(L-R) Rev. Kelli Clement (First Unitarian Church, Social Justice Minister), Karmann Peters (Whole Woman’s Health Alliance, MN Advocacy Manager), Debra deNoyelles (Family Tree Clinic, Director of Advancement), Haley Lipo Zovic (Reproductive Health Alliance, Intern), Abena Abraham (UnRestrict MN, Campaign Director), Megan Peterson (Gender Justice, Executive Director), Mariquita Anderson (Minnesota NOW, PAC Chair), Laura Lara with child Eli (Reproductive Health Access Project, MN Cluster Co-leader), and Shayla Walker (Our Justice, Executive Director). Photo Sarah Whiting

When the U.S. Supreme Court eliminated the constitutional right to abortion in June, all eyes turned to the states. Less than three weeks later, a Minnesota district court deemed six state abortion-related laws unconstitutional.

That decision was the result of a 2019 lawsuit, Doe v. Minnesota, supported by UnRestrict Minnesota, a 28-group coalition including LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, faith- based groups, and organizations engaged in related issues such as paid family leave. (UnRestrict Minnesota is a program of Gender Justice, a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization.)

The result? As abortion became restricted in Wisconsin, South Dakota, and other neighboring states, Minnesota blocked the enforcement of state laws — many of which had been in place for decades — that made it harder to obtain reproductive health care.

“Every piece of red tape matters”

One early result of the Minnesota court’s ruling is the elimination of the mandatory 24-hour waiting period, which required patients to hear a physician read a script — including some medically debunked information linking abortion to an increased risk of breast cancer — then wait at least 24 hours before receiving an abortion. Clinics were required to cancel the appointment if a patient did not participate.

The 24-hour waiting period was a burden for care providers and a logistical barrier that could be particularly difficult for people working inflexible jobs or living in unsafe environments, says Shayla Walker, executive director of Our Justice, a Minnesota-based abortion fund that served as a plaintiff in the Doe case. Since the ruling, Walker says, “folks in domestic violence situations, for example, [no longer] need to come up with an elaborate reason to tell their partner they need the phone.”

Another immediate result of the ruling: minors obtaining an abortion don’t need to observe the Two-Parent Notification Law, which formerly obliged them to notify both parents on their birth certificate — even if estranged — at least 48 hours before their procedure. If they couldn’t or didn’t want to notify both parents, minors had to seek a judicial order to bypass this requirement.

And now that the ruling blocked a ban on advanced practice clinicians (APCs) conducting abortions, nurse practitioners and physician assistants can receive training to perform abortions. Online reproductive health care provider Just the Pill has started hiring APCs for this purpose, and UnRestrict is working with medical institutions to reduce barriers to offer the procedure.

“In light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, every piece of red tape matters for Minnesotans and people traveling to Minnesota for abortion care,” Walker says.

Our Justice has seen disproportionate impacts on the people of color, people with low incomes, and queer and trans people they have connected with since the court decided Doe v. Minnesota.

But Walker cautions that the economics need to work in order for people on Medicaid to benefit. “There is not a lot of incentive for clinics to offer abortion care, given that the Medicaid reimbursement rate has not increased in ten years,” Walker says. “Our lawsuit addressed one part of the [abortion access] issue, when the issue is really multifaceted and multilayered.”

Waking Minnesota’s Sleeping Majority

The Doe v. Minnesota decision and the most recent election mark a shift for a movement that has been on the defense for decades, says Megan Peterson, executive director of Gender Justice.

For years, Peterson says, abortion was viewed as “political kryptonite,” even by pro-choice supporters — an attitude that led to very few proactive abortion bills introduced in the Minnesota legislature. She says more than 400 bills restricting abortion have been introduced since 1995.

“We have been saying, ‘abortion is not an issue you should be running from, it is an issue you should be running on,’” Peterson says, adding that the November election confirmed that a majority of Minnesotans support abortion rights. “[The Dobbs decision] hit like an asteroid and strengthened the support we already knew existed.”

The laws deemed unconstitutional in the Doe v. Minnesota case remain written state law. Removing them from the statute to ensure a future court does not reinstate them will likely be a priority in UnRestrict Minnesota’s legislative platform.

Also on the agenda is repurposing the use of state funds — $3.4 million per year — that primarily support “crisis pregnancy centers,” which Gender Justice refers to as “anti- abortion organizations that target pregnant people with predatory, deceptive marketing.”

Peterson would rather see that money funding holistic, non-coercive services for pregnant people. “Our goal would be to change the purpose and restrictions in the grant funding so those funds can be used by health care providers to support low-income pregnant people — without a coercive agenda,” she says.

As more people travel to Minnesota for abortion care, UnRestrict Minnesota will also be working to protect patients coming from states where abortion is illegal from out-of-state extradition, which has been a looming threat since Roe was overturned.

“This is our opportunity to go beyond the standard of Roe,” Peterson says. “We need to expand access.”

The Doe v. Minnesota Decision

On July 11, 2022, Minnesota’s Second Judicial District Court held that the Minnesota Constitution protects not just a fundamental right to choose abortion, but also a fundamental right to access abortion care. The court blocked laws that include:

  • a ban on qualified advanced practice clinicians providing abortion care;
  • a requirement forcing patients to delay their abortion care by at least 24 hours after consulting with a healthcare provider;
  • a requirement that minors notify both parents before they can receive abortion care;
  • a requirement forcing abortion providers to give irrelevant and misleading information to their patients;
  • a ban on the provision of second-trimester abortion care outside of hospitals; and
  • regulations that subject abortion providers to felony criminal penalties for minor regulatory infractions.

Source: The Lawyering Project