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If elected, Jeff Johnson plans to radically restrict abortion in Minnesota

Jeff Johnson wants to be governor of Minnesota, and he's taking a page from Iowa, where a new law bans abortion before most women would even know they're pregnant.

Jeff Johnson wants to be governor of Minnesota, and he's taking a page from Iowa, where a new law bans abortion before most women would even know they're pregnant. Star Tribune

Gubernatorial candidate and Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson has a vision for the future of abortion in Minnesota, and it looks a lot like Iowa.

The Plymouth Republican told MPR that if Roe v. Wade were overturned thanks to a new conservative Trump appointee to the U.S. Supreme Court, he would consider implementing a bill that makes abortion illegal when the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. Iowa passed a similar ban earlier this year.

“It said if you can hear and feel a heartbeat, then that is a living child, and you shouldn’t be able to abort it,” he told MPR.

Iowa’s so-called “heartbeat bill” won’t take effect until it has its day in court. A Polk County District Court Judge put it on ice until a lawsuit could determine whether it’s constitutional.

The crux of the issue is that a fetal heartbeat becomes detectable at around six weeks of pregnancy. That’s before most people even know they’re pregnant.

“Most of the women we see are past that mark,” Planned Parenthood of the Heartland spokesperson Becca Lee says. She argues that if the bill went into effect, it would be pretty much the same as outlawing abortion altogether.

That has her worried, because there are plenty of historical precedents for what happens when abortions are illegal -- and it’s not fewer abortions. Before Roe v. Wade, women found all sorts of home methods. Sometimes it meant finding a trained professional willing to skirt the law. Other women threw themselves down flights of stairs, douched with a rainbow of toxic chemicals – like bleach and turpentine -- and used ghastly tools to self-abort, from knitting needles to scissors.

According to the Centers for Disease Control,130,000 women obtained illegal or self-induced abortions in 1972 alone. Thirty-nine died.

Even with legal abortion, states have done so much to restrict access that women have resorted to other means. In 2015 there more than 700,000 searches for phrases like “how to self abort” and “how to miscarriage.” The top results included buying illicit abortion pills online, bleaching the uterus, and getting punched in the stomach. Methodologies have not progressed much since the ’60s.

The state with the highest rate of searches was Mississippi, which has only one abortion clinic. There was also a correlation between states that were considered hostile to abortion access and states with the most self-induced abortion searches. Eight of these states made the top 10.

Lee says any state looking to pass a ban like Iowa’s should take note of how swiftly the courts intervened.

“It’s egregious, unconscionable legislation, and it’s a drain on the court system,” she says.

And it may be what Minnesota has to look forward to if Johnson takes the reins.