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Reproductive rights, religious groups take aim at Minnesota abortion restrictions in lawsuit

Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director at nonprofit Gender Justice, on Wednesday, May 29, 2019, stood with a coalition of groups that filed a lawsuit alleging Minnesota laws pose unconstitutional restrictions on a woman's access to abortion. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Reproductive rights advocates, religious and health care groups are banding together to take a new tack at rolling back state restrictions on abortions: attempting to root them out in the courts.

In a complaint filed Wednesday, May 29 in Ramsey County District Court, the groups challenged a slate of state laws that restrict access to abortion and limit advertisement of treatments for sexually transmitted infection, alleging they run afoul of the Minnesota Constitution.

The lawsuit takes aim at state laws that require a 24-hour waiting period to obtain an abortion as well as the notification of two parents of a patient under the age of 18. The laws also specify that fetal remains must be cremated or buried and they lay out specific constraints for who can perform an abortion.

The restrictions violate a woman's right to an abortion under the state Constitution, according to the complaint filed by a Minnesota doctor who performs abortions, a certified nurse-midwife who would like to offer abortions and the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. The two medical providers weren't named in the complaint as they were concerned about their safety.

And the laws "impose burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on healthcare providers, increasing the cost and decreasing the availability of sexual and reproductive healthcare in Minnesota," the complaint says.

Those supporting the repeal of the restrictions on abortion access said they sought to take urgent action to safeguard women's right to an abortion. The push comes after states around the country approved in recent months legislation that would make it a felony to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, around six weeks of pregnancy.

State lawmakers bringing those proposals have said they hope to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 decision guaranteeing the federal right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade.

“As we’ve seen this moment in this nation, reproductive rights are under attack, the quiet part has been said out loud, the point is to ban abortion outright, criminalize providers and penalize women," said Erin Maye Quade, advocacy director at Gender Justice, a nonprofit advocacy group addressing gender inequality. "There is no more time to wait."

The Minnesota Supreme Court in the 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision ruled that women have the right to an abortion, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. And lawyers bringing the suit believe the "high bar" the state will have to clear in defending each of the laws will give them a good shot at getting them struck down.

The Minnesota Republican Party and abortion opponents said the laws were passed with bipartisan support and they help protect women seeking abortions. And they called on DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison to put forth a fair defense of the abortion laws.

“We think this lawsuit is very far-reaching. It targets laws that are very modest, mainstream, very commonsense,” said Paul Stark, spokesman for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life. "The laws have made a difference and we’re concerned about the effect of undoing all those laws would have."

Ellison, who has supported abortion rights, in a statement said he would review the case and proceed accordingly.

“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."

Gov. Tim Walz said he was also reviewing the lawsuit and evaluating next steps, according to a spokeswoman.

In 2017, 9,218 induced abortions were reported in Minnesota, according to state health statistics. That number was up slightly from a year earlier. That data is the most recent available.

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