Abortion-rights supporters filed a lawsuit Wednesday seeking to overturn Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion, including its 24-hour waiting period and parental notification requirements.
The lawsuit, filed by Gender Justice and the Lawyering Project, argues that the restrictions violate the Minnesota Constitution and aren’t necessary to protect patient health or other compelling state interests. The suit argues that opponents have chipped away at a 1995 state Supreme Court decision that affirmed a woman’s right to an abortion.
“Minnesota’s abortion laws are not only outdated, they’re harmful,” Megan Peterson, executive director of St. Paul-based Gender Justice, said at a news conference. “Far too often they prevent people from getting the care that they need when they need it. They force health care providers to follow politically motivated mandates rather than best practices and standards of care.”
The lawsuit, which was filed in Ramsey County District Court, runs counter to the trend of states across the country imposing stricter restrictions on access to abortion with the goal of getting the U.S. Supreme Court to reconsider its landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion.
Those efforts make the legal challenge to Minnesota’s restrictions all the more essential, said Amanda Allen, senior counsel with the New York-based Lawyering Project.
However, Paul Stark, a spokesman for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state’s largest anti-abortion rights group, criticized the lawsuit as extreme.
“This is a very far-reaching lawsuit. It challenges laws that are reasonable and common-sense,” Stark said.
The challenged statutes include mandates that only physicians can perform abortions; that abortions after 16 weeks be performed in hospitals; and that providers report detailed data on each patient to the state.
Another law challenged by the lawsuit requires doctors to discuss with patients a list of required disclosures, including the risks and alternatives to abortion, the availability of medical assistance benefits and child support for women who carry to term, and the pain a fetus might feel.
The lawsuit also seeks to void requirements for a 24-hour waiting period after those disclosures are made, for notifying both parents of a minor in advance (with some exceptions), and for burying or cremating fetal tissue instead of treating it like medical waste. Some of those laws carry felony criminal penalties, civil penalties and professional discipline by the state medical and nursing boards.
According to data from the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, Minnesota’s restrictions place the state in a middle zone between states with strict restrictions on access to abortion and those with strong abortion rights. Some states have strengthened those rights in recent months, in case the U.S. Supreme Court rolls back its 1973 ruling, in which case abortion policy would revert to the states.
The lawsuit puts Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison in a difficult position as both a staunch progressive and abortion-rights supporter.
“I have a long history standing for the right to privacy and reproductive freedom, and I hold these views proudly,” Ellison said in a statement. “I am also Minnesota’s chief legal officer: in that capacity, I have a duty to defend the constitutionality of Minnesota statutes and will do so in this case.
“We will review the complaint as soon as we are served, will evaluate our strategy, and will respond in due course.”
Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said abortion opponents will be watching.
“Attorney General Ellison must put his personal ideology aside and defend the laws of our state — we will be watching closely to make sure his office mounts a credible defense against this outrageous attack on Minnesota’s pro-life laws,” Daudt said in a statement.