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Conservative activists questioned Attorney General Keith Ellison's defense of Minnesota abortion restrictions Monday as they petitioned a court to intervene in a case challenging parts of state law regulating the procedure.

Ellison, a former Democratic congressman, has pledged to defend the laws despite his personal support for abortion rights. His office filed a motion to dismiss the challenge in late September, arguing that the plaintiffs did not have standing to file the lawsuit. "The Plaintiffs want to rewrite Minnesota law with respect to abortion," Solicitor General Liz Kramer wrote. "The courts are not the right vehicle for that effort — the Legislature is."

But the activists behind Monday's legal maneuver, Pro-Life Action Ministries and the watchdog group Association for Government Accountability, say Ellison's argument in that motion was insufficient.

Attorney Erick Kaardal said that Ellison "has wasted government resources and taxpayer dollars and undermined the defense" by not invoking precedents barring direct suits against state government for alleged constitutional violations. Kaardal, a special counsel with the Thomas More Society, submitted a 22-page filing Monday asking the court to consider that argument ahead of an Oct. 30 hearing on Ellison's motion to dismiss the case.

At issue are a number of state statutes on abortion, including the 24-hour waiting period, a two-parent notification for patients under 18, and a requirement that fetal remains be buried or cremated.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit — two anonymous health professionals and the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis — argue that the laws create unnecessary barriers for women and providers exercising their constitutionally protected rights to abortion services.

The Attorney General's Office defended Ellison's approach to the case. "The first argument of the state's motion to dismiss the lawsuit is precisely that the plaintiffs have failed to prove their standing," said John Stiles, a spokesman for Ellison's office. "In addition, the state argues that the plaintiffs have failed to name the proper defendants and that their claims fail as a matter of law. We look forward to making that argument in court at the end of this month."

David Schultz, a Hamline University professor and expert on state constitutional law, questioned critics' arguments. He said state courts have in the past allowed individuals to sue the state over fundamental rights and that, based on previous rulings, abortion would likely be included in that category.

A representative for Gender Justice, one of the groups behind the initial lawsuit, dismissed the motion for intervention as "baseless."

Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report. Torey Van Oot • 651-925-5049