Status on Reproductive Freedom Defense Act

Thanks to Women’s Foundation of Minnesota  for supporting stories about reproductive justice. Women’s Foundation has been listening, advocating, and supporting leaders to work for racial and gender justice since 1983.

When Rep. Esther Agbaje (DFL­­–District 59B), also known as the “Reproductive Freedom Defense Act,” introduced her bill to the House floor in March, she indicated the intention is to protect patients and providers from legal or disciplinary action for acts involving reproductive health care. She said it is a response to the “legal attacks we’re seeing around the country related to the access and provision of reproductive healthcare. Providers now have to be concerned about the type of healthcare they provide and whether they will be prosecuted for giving patients the reproductive healthcare they need.”

She said some states allow its legal system to reach into places like Minnesota, where abortion is legal, to prosecute doctors and patients. “House File 366 ensures that the law governing the release of health records excludes out-of-state subpoenas and court orders … In essence, this bill protects Minnesotans from prosecution by other states over what is legal in Minnesota.”

Some Minnesota legislators voiced opposition

Rep. Peggy Scott (GOP– District 31B): “Reproductive care by the definitions of this bill is not healthcare for the unborn child. Let’s make that really, really clear here. Only one person is seen here as getting healthcare in this bill and it certainly is not the unborn child. This is an extreme bill that disregards the priority of the rule of law in exchange for ensuring only the lives of wanted children are allowed to happen.”

Scott asked: “Does this bill allow a Minnesota abortion provider to use telemedicine to prescribe a chemical abortion drug to a woman or a girl in a state where the chemical abortion drug is outlawed?”

Rep. Esther Agbaje spoke at a Minnesota Women’s Press / Changemakers Alliance event March 25 about her Reproductive Freedom Defense Act

Agbaje responded: “As long as the telehealth providers are providing legal reproductive healthcare in Minnesota, they are allowed to do that under the current telehealth laws.”

Scott: “We’re making a law for other states to allow the breaking of a law in other states and no one here is going to be held accountable. … This is a dangerous bill that makes Minnesota an outlier. It turns the rule of law on its head in relation to our cooperation that has always taken place between other states.”

Rep. Harry Niska (GOP–District 31A): “I think the first test that every one of us should apply to every piece of legislation is whether it … satisfies that constitutional test. This bill does not satisfy that test.” He indicated the attorney general’s office should anticipate legal challenges.

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (GOP–District 28B): “I’m perplexed. … I don’t view this as an abortion bill, really. The majority has already passed the most extreme abortion laws in the entire country, really the world. We already have full access to any abortion for any reason at any point in pregnancy in the State of Minnesota. That already exists here thanks to our Democrat colleagues. … This bill isn’t about abortion. This bill is about a respect for the rule or law, or more appropriately, a lack of respect for the rule of law. That’s what this bill is.”

Brindley says she agrees with some parts of the bill: “Things that happen within the State of Minnesota that are legal within the State of Minnesota, other states should not have the ability to reach into Minnesota and harm, prosecute, people who have engaged in lawful activity within the State of Minnesota. I would agree with that on any issue. But that’s not where this bill stops. … I guess the only good news is this bill, if it becomes law won’t stand.”

Rep. Duane Quam (GOP–District 24A) expressed concern that Minnesota doctors could prescribe medication abortion via telehealth services. “I have concerns because telehealth is very important to a lot of our health providers here. It is very common to do telehealth to others not presently in the State of Minnesota … you’re practicing in the state of the resident and the patient. So you would be breaking the law practicing medicine in another state.”

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL–District 64B) clarified that the bill and its language is regarding protection of “acts committed in this state, services received in this state.”

Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL– District 66B) added, “It’s really important to recognize that pregnant people deserve health care regardless of what that pregnancy ends up being. I also think it is important to recognize that not all laws are good laws. We used to have to extradite slaves that made it to free states and send them back to slavery. That’s not right. History wouldn’t look back on that as the correct thing to do.”

Rep. Jamie Long (DFL–District District 61B) said, “This bill quite simply is about protecting activity that is legal in Minnesota against interference from other states.”

Rep. Anne Neu Brindley (GOP– District 28B) responded, “This bill simply chooses to ignore the rule of law.”

Agbaje closed by saying, “States are doing what they can to protect themselves, their residents, their providers, and that is what they are doing,” because of the Supreme Court decision.

The legislation passed 68-62 in the House on March 20 and was sent to the Minnesota Senate for discussion and vote.

More discussion about this legislation, and other reproductive health care questions in Minnesota, available from our March 25 event