Eden Prairie Rep. Carlie Kotyza-Witthun, District 49B, is the lead author of sweeping new abortion rights legislation in Minnesota, H.F. No. 1. Designating the bill as number 1, are legislative code words for “very important legislation.”
The bill is short (less than 300 words), simple, and addresses a broad range of reproductive health care services, including abortion. The bill states that “Every individual has a fundamental right to make autonomous decisions about the individual’s own reproductive health.”
“The bill addresses reproductive freedom and what that means,” Kotyza-Witthuhn said. “Everything from counseling, fertility challenges, family planning services, conception care.”
Although there is strong disagreement on the bill’s content, there is agreement between Democrats and Republicans that there is a very broad right to abortion under current Minnesota law.
This right arises from a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court case Doe v. Gomez. “[The bill] if passed does nothing more than codify Doe v. Gomez,” Kotyza-Witthuhn said. “It is just an additional layer of protection should what happened to Roe v Wade at a federal level happen to Doe v. Gomez here in Minnesota.
As has been widely reported, the reaction to the bill by the GOP and other abortion opponents has been negative.
The bill has been broadly criticized by opponents as extreme, because it establishes no gestational limits, and has no parental notice requirements.
“This bill codifies the absolute most extreme position on abortion that allows full access to any abortion at any point in pregnancy up until 40 weeks,” Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch said, according to a January 5, 2023 CBS News Minnesota report.
Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, predicted abortion would be the most controversial issue at the Legislature this year, according to a January 6, 2023 MinnPost report.
When asked about criticism that the bill makes abortion legal up until the moment of birth, Kotyza-Witthuhn responded, “That is not true. That is not the way abortion care works. To suggest that a licensed medical professional would kill a baby, is just offensive.
“I don’t think that those sorts of [gestational]limitations are necessary because every pregnancy is so unique,” she said In 2021, the last full year of available statistics, there were 100,000 births in Minnesota, yet only three third trimester abortions happened.
“What folks need to think about is if in the late stage of their pregnancy someone receives devastating health news that the mother’s health or the health of the fetus is at risk, they need to be able to make that decision with their doctor,” she said. “[Late term abortions] are so rare that legislation and politics have no place in that decision.”
Kotyza-Witthun believes a law on reproductive rights does not need special provisions regarding parental notification. She pointed out that when such provisions have been passed, they are often held to be unconstitutional. “There are existing state statutes addressing [parental notification],” she said.
Kotyza-Witthuhn believes that in the last election, voters in Eden Prairie and Minnesota provided her and the Democratic party a mandate for H.F. No. 1.
“What we know is that two-thirds of the public support a person’s right to access abortion care without the interference of the government,” she said. “We have a tremendous opportunity for my colleagues across the aisle to say we think Minnesotans should have access to [abortion services], and it is up to the people, not politicians, to make these decisions.”
Voters have a clear preference that the decision on whether and when to have an abortion is a decision that a woman and her health care provider should make and the government has no place in being part of that decision,” she said.
“The Republicans continually say they are the party of small government, less government.” she said. “For them to say the government has control over what someone does with their body is, in my opinion, the exact opposite of what they should be advocating.”
Passing this legislation now is consistent with the 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, she said, because the Dobbs decision states that the decision on abortion rights should be left to the states, and the State of Minnesota, as evidenced by the last election, has made its decision.
When asked if she would support amendments to the bill if it would generate bipartisan support, she said she was skeptical that the GOP would ever support the bill even if it was amended.
“I think this could be a bipartisan vote because this is what the public wants,” she said. “But I am not going to make concessions about the health care of Minnesotans in order to gain a couple more votes.”
Kotyza-Witthuhn predicted that H.F. No. 1, will pass both houses of the legislature and be signed by Gov. Tim Walz largely in the form it is now. She also predicted a straight party line vote on the bill.
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