Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion are too important for pro-abortion groups to eliminate through a single lawsuit, pro-life defenders of the 13 challenged laws have said.
Paul Stark, communications director with Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, said the state’s current laws are “reasonable and very modest protections for pregnant women and their unborn children.”
“Women have a right to informed consent. Parents should be notified when their minor children are undergoing abortion. The public should know about how abortion is practiced in our state,” he told CNA Nov. 1. “All of these things would go away if the lawsuit is successful.”
The lawsuit, filed in May in Ramsey County District Court, was the subject of an Oct. 30 hearing. The suit argued that a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez, which ruled the state constitution includes a right to legal abortion, means many state laws passed before and after the decision are unconstitutional.
“We think that claim has no merit and should be dismissed. But it could be many months before the case reaches its resolution,” Stark told CNA.
With the U.S. Supreme Court believed to be at a tipping point against precedents which mandate permissive abortion laws nationwide, advocates of legal abortion have sought to strengthen their legal position at the state level. State laws and judicial decisions would govern abortion if pro-abortion precedents are overturned in federal courts.
In neighboring Iowa, state legislation to restrict abortion has been overturned by a 2018 state Supreme Court decision which declared the right to choose abortion “a fundamental right under the Iowa Constitution.” Such rulings are unlikely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has little jurisdiction over issues affecting state constitutions.
Judge Thomas Gilligan heard arguments about the lawsuit’s merits on Wednesday. He indicated he would take time before he rules on whether to dismiss the case, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, two unnamed women and the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, argued that the lawsuit should move forward.
“The First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis has a long history of supporting reproductive health rights and justice,” said Rev. Kelli Clement, social justice minister for the society, Minnesota Public Radio reported in May.
The lawsuit names as defendants Attorney General Keith Ellison and Gov. Tim Walz, both members of the Democratic-Famer-Labor Party, and several state agencies. While Ellison backs legal abortion, he has also said he is legally required to defend the state’s laws.
Pro-life groups were not represented at the hearing and have sought to have their own attorney intervene in the case. This effort will delay a ruling until at least December.
While pro-life advocates did not speak in court, they did speak against the lawsuit.
Jason Adkins, executive director with the Minnesota Catholic Conference, characterized the laws as “common-sense regulations are consistent with the state’s interest in promoting informed consent and the health and safety of women who undergo abortions.”
“Ultimately, this lawsuit, challenging common-sense laws that do not prevent anyone from actually procuring an abortion, demonstrates the desire to suppress conscience and the truth,” Adkins told CNA Nov. 1. “Abortion proponents want to keep information about the reality of abortion out of sight from patients and the public lest its harms be exposed and both choose differently.“
The coalition backing the lawsuit, called Unrestrict Minnesota, includes several self-described feminist and women’s health advocacy groups, ACLU Minnesota, the labor union affiliate AFSCME Council 5, the Asian American Organizing Project, and the National Council of Jewish Women Minnesota.
“Minnesota’s abortion restrictions are medically unnecessary and legally untenable,” said Megan Peterson, executive director of Gender Justice, another member of the coalition. She said the 1995 state Supreme Court decision upheld “basic rights to privacy and personal decision-making.”
Solicitor General Liz Kramer made procedural objections to the lawsuit, Minnesota Public Radio reports.
“One of the things that makes this case different than every other abortion case cited by the parties is how long these statutes have been on the books. The plaintiffs have challenged 13 different statutes,” she said.
These laws have been in effect from 11 years to 111 years.
Kramer argued that plaintiffs failed to show concrete harm as a result of the defendants’ action.
The Unrestrict Minnesota website claims that state lawmakers have been “quietly passing laws that restrict abortion access, intimidate providers and patients, and increase costs.”
Among other rules, the lawsuit targets a number of Minnesota’s requirements for obtaining an abortion, including “Woman’s Right to Know,” which ensures informed consent prior to an abortion; its two-parent notification requirement for patients under 18; its prohibition of non-physicians performing abortions; and the requirement of hospital settings for abortions performed after 16 weeks.
The laws require that doctors who provide abortions talk about the risks of abortion, alternatives to abortion, the possibility of pain to an unborn child during an abortion, the availability of medical assistance to women and a man’s obligation to provide child support.
The lawsuit also seeks to end data collection on abortions and requirements for fetal remains be buried or cremated instead of being treated as medical waste.
Data collection questions can “feel intrusive and stigmatizing and are an invasion of privacy,” Unrestrict Minnesota argued. The coalition website particularly objects to Minnesota Department of Health reporting on a patient’s race, marital status and county of residence.
Adkins, the Minnesota Catholic Conference executive director, further explained his opposition to the lawsuit.
“The lawsuit is an unfortunate, saddening attack on solid, bipartisan legislation that protects women and children, ensures that people make the decision with informed consent, and makes sure that human remains aren’t put in the trash,” he said.
“This lawsuit is meritless, and should be thrown out consistent with the normal course of judicial decision making,” said Adkins. “But with abortion, the normal rules of adjudication don’t apply—a phenomenon known as the ‘abortion distortion.’ We should not assume that they will be upheld, and the attorney general’s office has a duty to provide zealous advocacy on their behalf.”
“We have a tradition in Minnesota of judicial elections being about temperament and experience, and not issues,” he added. “I don’t think there is a big desire among most in the judiciary to politicize our courts. This case will be a barometer of whether that culture still holds.”
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