ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Senate waded into the culture wars Friday by passing bills to make Minnesota a refuge for youth seeking gender-affirming care, out-of-state abortion patients and providers seeking protection, and to ban so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ youth.
All three bills passed the Democratic-controlled House earlier this session. While Democrats hold just a one-seat majority in the Senate, bill sponsors were confident heading into the emotional debate. First up was the conversion therapy ban, which passed 36-27 with two Republicans voting “yes.” The abortion refuge bill passed 34-29 on a party-line vote, and the trans refuge bill won similar approval 34-30.
The conversion therapy ban and trans refuge bills now go straight to Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for his signature. Meanwhile, the bill expanding abortion rights was headed back to the House for its agreement with adding pharmacists to the list of shielded medical providers.
“The through-thread in all of these, of course, is people should be free," Democratic Sen. Scott Dibble, of Minneapolis, author of the conversion therapy ban, said at a news conference ahead of the debate.
“People should have the liberties that are guaranteed in our constitution," Dibble said. "People should have the right to self-determination, and in Minnesota, people should be free from the laws of other states that would impact and negatively affect all of those basic American rights and freedoms.”
Democratic Sen. Kelly Morrison, of Deephaven, the author of the abortion bill, said the three pieces of legislation collectively “say to Minnesotans that you are safe here in Minnesota, and to people who are forced to flee their home states because they are not safe there, we say, ‘Welcome and you are safe here in Minnesota.’”
Walz has already signed an executive order to protect young people and their families who come to Minnesota for health care from states where it's illegal to seek gender-affirming care. But the bill will etch those protections into law. Similarly, the conversion therapy ban builds on another Walz executive order.
The abortion bill is designed to protect people who come to Minnesota for abortions from legal repercussions in states where abortion is banned or sharply restricted, such as lawsuits, subpoenas and extradition. Minnesota courts would be prohibited from enforcing out-of-state subpoenas for medical records or judgements against patients or providers.
Opponents of the conversion therapy ban argued that it would impinge on religious freedom and the ability of families to seek counseling for children who they say need help sorting out their sexual identities.
GOP Sen. Paul Utke, of Park Rapids, argued against the abortion bill, saying Minnesota should not protect doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who have intentionally violated the abortion laws of other states.
“We need to uphold and honor the rules and laws of our neighboring states, and states across the country,” Utke said during the debate.
The author of the trans refuge bill, Democratic Sen. Erin Maye Quade, of Apple Valley, filed an ethics complaint this week against Republican Sen. Glenn Gruenhagen, of Glencoe, over a link to a video that he emailed to Democratic senators, with a note saying it documented “mutilating transgender surgeries on minor children. Extremely graphic and disturbing.”
Maye Quade said at the news conference that it would be “wildly inappropriate” for senators to send videos of genitalia to their colleagues. She said she wanted “to draw a very bright line in the sand of what is and is not appropriate behavior and conduct. ... This crossed the line.”
Experts testified as the bill went through committee hearings that gender-confirmation surgery is very rare for minors, and that gender-affirming care for them normally ranges from changes in dress and hairstyles to counseling and hormone therapy.
Gruenhagen clarified that what he shared was actually a video created by doctors at the University of Louisville Medical School as a tutorial for gynecologists to familiarize them with gender transition surgery. The introduction to the video does not disclose the age of the patient.
“I’m disappointed that Sen. Maye Quade choose to take this matter public before ... approaching me with her concerns," Gruenhagen said in a statement, in which he claimed the complaint was without merit. “I’m sure we could have found some resolution as colleagues.”
Maye Quade told reporters that senators can maintain strong opinions without sharing such imagery. She was backed up by Democratic Rep. Leigh Finke, of St. Paul, the first trans person elected to the Minnesota Legislature.
“Trans people are not mutilated. Trans people are whole,” Finke said. “We are wholly ourselves. ... They are obsessed with our bodies and genitalia in a way that is absolutely horrific.”