Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
If anyone doubted that abortion was on the ballot this November, they need look no further than the small western Minnesota city of Prinsburg.
State Republican Rep. Tim Miller, who represents the area, announced at the start of this year that he would not seek re-election. Instead, Miller, who now works for a group that opposes abortion, said he would dedicate himself to turning this tiny city of fewer than 500 residents into the hub of a new abortion battle with a proposed ordinance allowing residents to sue abortion providers.
Wisely, the City Council shelved the ordinance on Friday. But the Prinsburg story may hold lessons for other Minnesota cities.
You might wonder whether a place as small as Prinsburg even has an abortion clinic. It does not. Neither does it have known local abortion providers. The proposal would have resolved that by allowing residents to sue companies that provide abortion pills by mail.
The proposal was similar to a terrible law passed in Texas that allows private citizens to sue those whom they suspect of aiding or abetting an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. According to Miller, the lawyer who wrote that law worked on the Prinsburg proposal.
But unlike Texas, Prinsburg is in a state where no less an authority than the Minnesota Supreme Court has held, in the 1995 case Doe v. Gomez, that the state Constitution includes the right to terminate a pregnancy.
That did not dissuade Miller, who told a Star Tribune reporter, "This is what God is calling me to do." He had arranged for the deep pockets of the Thomas More Society, a nonprofit law firm specializing in culture-war issues that does not publicly disclose its funding sources, to defend Prinsburg if it had faced court challenges.
Before the Prinsburg City Council decision, Miller said he planned to spread this campaign to deprive women of their constitutional right to other rural communities. The intention, he told the Star Tribune, is not to penalize the woman who has an abortion but to stop "the animals who tell her that's OK and profit from it."
This, of course, presumes that women are easily led astray and couldn't possibly have determined the risks for themselves and come to their own conclusion that the time is not right for them to undertake childbearing. It is an insulting premise, and most Minnesotans have made clear they reject such thinking.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told an editorial writer last week that the Prinsburg city attorney had contacted his office, "and we have every reason to believe the city attorney will review carefully and follow the laws of the state of Minnesota."
Writing to Prinsburg Mayor Roger Ahrenholz, who has already expressed support for Miller's proposal, Ellison advised that "Any municipal ordinance which limits the fundamental rights of pregnant Minnesotans to receive an abortion is unconstitutional" and that the state has extensive laws regulating the practices of medicine, nursing and pharmacology. "No city in Minnesota has the power to restrict the right to abortion or enact conflicting regulations on health care providers," Ellison wrote.
In a statement posted to the city's website on Friday, city leaders said, "In reaching its decision, the council took into account the position of the Minnesota Attorney General and its City Attorney stating that provisions described in the ordinance are unconstitutional and not within the legal authority of the city to enact. The council plans no further discussion or comment regarding the proposed ordinance."
Ellison said such efforts, even if they are essentially publicity stunts, prove that abortion continues to be an issue deserving of complete legal protection. Reproductive rights, he said, "must be fully defended, because there are clearly activists here who are going to advance their cause any way they can."
One of the best ways to defend those specific rights would be to enshrine them in statute.
The state Legislature now has a reproductive-rights majority. It should use that majority to provide statutory protection under Minnesota law without delay.