Judge strikes down most of Minnesota’s abortion restrictions

Published 6:22 am Tuesday, July 12, 2022

ST. PAUL — A judge declared most of Minnesota’s restrictions on abortion unconstitutional on Monday, including the state’s mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor can get an abortion.

Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan also struck down Minnesota’s requirements that only physicians can perform abortions and that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals. His order took effect immediately, meaning the limits can’t be enforced.

The abortion rights groups behind the lawsuit said the ruling came at a crucial time, just over two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion across the country. Providers have been preparing for a surge in patients from neighboring upper Midwest states, and even farther away, where abortion has become illegal or is expected to become restricted.

“It underscores that Minnesota has the need to serve as a leader in providing abortion care to millions that will need it across the country, especially those in our region,” said Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director for Gender Justice. Removing those “onerous barriers” will lead to even more people coming to Minnesota for abortion care, she added.

Gilligan ruled that the state’s restrictions were unconstitutional under a landmark 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling known as Doe v. Gomez, which held that the state constitution protects abortion rights. The judge called that case “significant and historic” and said it’s unaffected by the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

“These abortion laws violate the right to privacy because they infringe upon the fundamental right under the Minnesota Constitution to access abortion care and do not withstand strict scrutiny,” Gilligan wrote.

The judge also drew a distinction between the Gomez case and last month’s Dobbs v. Jackson ruling.

“Unlike the Dobbs Court, which threw out nearly fifty years of precedent, this court must respect the precedent set by the Minnesota Supreme Court in Gomez and that precedent will guide this court’s decisions in this case,” Gilligan wrote.

Under the laws Gilligan struck down, physicians were required at the start of the 24-hour waiting period to provide information to the patient about the risks of the procedure, the probable gestational age of the fetus, the risks of carrying the pregnancy to term, and fetal pain. The laws also required disclosure about welfare benefits that might be available for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care, and that the father would be liable for child support.

The ruling means that no parental consent is needed for a minor to get an abortion in Minnesota. Gilligan noted that minors had been otherwise free to make their own reproductive and other health care decisions in the state, without notifying a parent.

In about the only victory for supporters of the restrictions, the judge let stand the state’s data reporting requirements for abortion providers. But he he struck down a provision imposing felony criminal penalties on those that fail to report their data.

Opponents of abortion rights condemned the decision as judicial activism. Speaking to reporters, Republican attorney general candidate Jim Schultz called on Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison to appeal the ruling and accused him of failing in his duty to aggressively to defend state laws that were adopted by the Legislature.

“They went about the defense of these statutes in a half-hearted manner because Keith Ellison, as always, puts his personal beliefs above Minnesota law,” Schultz said.

While Ellison is an abortion rights supporter, and has said he would have voted against the restrictions back when he was a legislator, he acknowledged previously that his office had an obligation to defend the restrictions. He said he has not decided whether to appeal.

“My team and I are reviewing the 140-page decision and are beginning to consult with our clients about any next steps,” the attorney general said in a statement. “It’s clear Judge Gilligan, who has had this case for three years, has put much thought into this decision that he clearly did not take lightly.”

The state’s largest anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, also condemned the ruling.

“The laws challenged in this case are common sense measures that support and empower pregnant women,” MCCL said in a statement. “Today’s ruling striking them down is extreme and without a foundation in the Minnesota Constitution. It blocks Minnesotans from enacting reasonable protections for unborn children and their mothers.”

But groups behind the lawsuit said the ruling will benefit patients from restrictive states who are now expected to come to Minnesota.

“With abortion bans in half the country set to take effect in the coming weeks and months, it is more important than ever to leverage protections in state constitutions like Minnesota’s,” Amanda Allen, senior counsel and director at the Lawyering Project, said in a statement. “Minnesota has the chance to be a safe place for people amidst this national public health crisis.”