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Equal rights and abortion protections are moving closer to landing in 2026 statewide

An amendment to enshrine equal rights and abortion protections in the Minnesota Constitution moved one step closer to a vote after the House of Representatives voted Sunday to put the issue before voters in 2026.

The sweeping Equal Rights Amendment passed the House early Sunday morning on a 68-62 vote, after more than a dozen hours of debate over several days. But the Senate did not pass the bill before the midnight deadline.

The proposal would ask Minnesotans whether the state constitution should be amended to guarantee equal rights regardless of “race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability or sex, including pregnancy, sex and sexual orientation.”

Advocates said constitutional protections are needed to prevent future legislative actions or court rulings that could take away rights, including access to abortion.

“We need to enshrine the protections in the constitution now,” said Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St Paul, the measure’s sponsor. “Case law and statutes are subject to political whims and the political preferences of judges.”

The amendment could spark an expensive statewide campaign, similar to the abortion-related referendum battles in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022.

Republicans, along with anti-abortion and religious groups, have tried to block the amendment from coming to a vote, arguing that it leaves out protections for people based on their age, religion and other factors, while aiming to protecting abortion rights is cloaked in language about abortion. pregnancy.

“We all have the same God-given rights, and the state should treat us all that way, not based on our membership in a particular group,” said Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey.

Lawmakers have debated more than a dozen proposed changes to the amendment in recent days, including adding religion as a protected class to the bill. Democrats rejected the amendments, arguing that religion already enjoys a higher level of protection in the state constitution.

“We are expanding civil rights to all Minnesotans,” said Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, co-sponsor of the voting initiative. “The Minnesota Constitution protects the rights of people of faith as much or more than any state in the U.S.”

Minnesota’s proposal is an expanded version of an equal rights amendment based on gender that has been debated in the Capitol for decades. The amendment’s fate is unclear in the Senate, which passed a different version of the Equal Rights Amendment last year. Senate leaders have not said whether they have the votes to pass the House version of the bill.

“Until we know what lies ahead, we have not captured our vote,” said Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said this on Friday morning before the House of Representatives began debating the bill. “We’ve had many, many discussions about the importance of what I think is a new and modern ERA, an era that reflects our values, our freedoms and what it means to be a Minnesotan.”

There is pressure on Democrats to take action this year while they have full control of the legislature. Constitutional amendments must pass both chambers to get on the ballot, but that does not require the governor’s signature. Lawmakers have until Sunday at 11:59 p.m. to pass bills.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe, voters in six states have spoken out on constitutional amendments related to abortion, with abortion rights groups prevailing in each state. This fall, more than a dozen states will have abortion-related measures on the agenda.

“I can’t wait to get out of this building and tell Minnesotans what this is doing because they will be as disgusted and astounded as I am,” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch.

The House supported waiting until 2026 for the amendment to come up for a vote to give groups enough time to campaign on the issue. Both parties are already preparing for a campaign that could cost millions to convince voters.

As debate on the bill wrapped up Sunday morning, DFL House Majority Leader Jamie Long said Minnesota lawmakers legally protected abortion rights last session, and voters should be asked whether they want constitutional protections.

“Minnesotans have watched in shock as state after state plays out as they chip away at women’s rights,” he said. “The Supreme Court wanted this to be a state decision, let’s let the people of Minnesota make this decision once and for all.”