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Washington, Minnesota become trans refuges, shield abortions

SEATTLE (AP) — Washington and Minnesota won't cooperate with attempts to prosecute out-of-state patients seeking reproductive or gender-affirming procedures and treatment, under new laws signed Thursday by the two states’ Democratic governors.

They're the latest liberal states to enact legal safeguards as Republican legislators across the country are rushing to block or limit transgender and abortion health care. More than a dozen states have effectively banned abortion outright in the year since the Supreme Court's conservative majority overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Freedom of choice is a health care issue. We are protecting access to health care,” said Gov. Jay Inslee, who wore a pink tie to the outdoor bill signing ceremony in Seattle.

The laws block other states from using Washington- or Minnesota-run courts or judicial processes to enforce their bans — things like warrants, subpoenas, extradition requests or other court orders.

Anti-abortion advocates and legislators questioned the need for Washington’s and Minnesota’s shield laws, since abortion is already protected under state laws. Washington Republican Rep. Jim Walsh tweeted that the policies are “anti-family.”

Halfway across the country, Gov. Tim Walz made Minnesota a refuge for young people coming from other states for gender-affirming care. He also signed legislation Thursday making Minnesota a sanctuary for abortion patients from other states and banning so-called conversion therapy for LGBTQ+ youth.

“Look, I don’t know how hard this concept is to understand,” Walz said. “When someone else is given basic rights, others don’t lose theirs. We’re not cutting a pie here. We’ve giving basic rights to every single Minnesotan.”

Walz and Inslee signed the bills on a day when Republican legislators in Kansas enacted what may be the most sweeping anti-transgender bathroom law in the nation. A day earlier, Montana Republican leaders barred a transgender state lawmaker from the House floor after she rebuked colleagues who voted to ban gender-affirming care for children.

Transgender medical treatment for children and teens has been available in the U.S. for more than a decade and is endorsed by major medical associations.

The Washington law responds to states such as neighboring Idaho that made it illegal for an adult to help a minor get an abortion without parental consent. And starting next year, anyone in Idaho who provides gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth could end up a convicted felon.

Similarly, the new Minnesota law is aimed at abortion patients not only from neighboring states, but those from as far away as Texas who have made Minnesota a destination.

States that generally allow people to end pregnancies have provided more abortions on average per month since June last year than they did before Roe v. Wade was overturned. That's according to a national tracking effort called #WeCount, which is led by the Society of Family Planning, a nonprofit organization that promotes research on abortion and contraception.

Clinics in Washington have reported 138 more abortions per month since the court decision than in the months before it.

Minnesota's first openly transgender legislator, Rep. Leigh Finke, was the chief House author of the trans refuge bill.

Signing it into law was “an act of great inclusion and celebration” that protects vulnerable people.

“All of us are living our daily lives, trying to simply find space to be who we are, to love who we love, to exist in our schools, to exist peacefully in our families, just find a space for us to be whole,” Finke said.

Republican Sen. Paul Utke 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.

Washington's governor signed a handful of related laws Thursday. One prevents out-of-pocket costs for abortions under health insurance plans regulated by the state Insurance Commissioner's Office. Another increases consumer protections around how companies collect, share and sell health data including from period-tracking apps. A third specifically protects health care providers from disciplinary action for performing legal abortion or gender-affirming care in the state.

The state also bought a bulk order of the longtime FDA-approved abortion medication mifepristone amid an ongoing lawsuit over the drug by a conservative Christian group.

Inslee had pushed to add abortion protections to the state constitution but it failed to advance in the Legislature — at least in part because it required some Republican support to meet a two-thirds threshold in each chamber.

Abortion has been legal in Washington state since a 1970 statewide referendum. In 1991, Washington voters approved codifying Roe into state law.

A Minnesota judge struck down most of the state's abortion restrictions last summer. Walz then signed a bill in January codifying abortion rights.

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Karnowski reported from St. Paul, Minnesota. AP Videographer Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.