A district court judge has ruled many Minnesota laws restricting abortion access violate the state Constitution, a significant victory for abortion rights groups just weeks after the fall of Roe v. Wade.
The court on Monday blocked enforcement of a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion and two-parent notification for patients younger than 18, as well as an informed consent requirement. The ruling also found unconstitutional a mandate that only physicians can perform abortions, as well as a law requiring that abortions after the first trimester be performed in a hospital.
The court cited a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling that found access to abortion is a constitutional right.
"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," wrote Ramsey District Judge Thomas Gilligan in his 140-page ruling.
It comes after more than three years of litigation in the case, known as Doe v. Minnesota, brought by abortion rights groups pushing to cancel more than a dozen restrictions.
The state could appeal the ruling in the coming weeks, but for now the decision immediately expands abortion access in Minnesota and bolsters the state's status as a haven for the procedure in the Midwest. Neighboring states such as South Dakota and Wisconsin have laws on the books that banned abortion once the U.S. Supreme Court struck down federal constitutional protections provided in Roe v. Wade.
"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," said Amanda Allen, director of the Lawyering Project and co-counsel on the lawsuit with Minnesota legal nonprofit Gender Justice. "Minnesota has the chance to be a safe place for people amidst this national public health crisis."
The ruling was quickly criticized by Republican lawmakers and groups opposed to abortion rights, who said the laws were modest measures that support pregnant women.
"A lot of women have been helped by these policies," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, the state's largest anti-abortion group. "Now they will be harmed as these protections are taken away by an egregiously mistaken court ruling, one that goes well beyond Roe v. Wade. This mistake must be corrected."
Fischbach said past U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld similar informed consent and parental notification laws. Republicans already are putting the pressure on Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the state laws in court, to appeal the ruling. Ellison, a first-term DFL attorney general facing re-election in the fall, has vowed to defend women traveling to Minnesota to seek abortion care.
Ellison said Monday that his office has not yet decided whether to appeal and has 60 days to make that decision.
"I believe in a woman's right to choose. I also have the duty to defend Minnesota statutes," he said. "Both of those are my jobs at the same time. We're taking a good strong look at the decision."
Ellison added that he does not think he's "duty-bound" to appeal the court ruling. Two Republican candidates for attorney general — Jim Schultz and Doug Wardlow — criticized Ellison and the ruling and said they would appeal if they held the job.
"This decision is part of a far-left jurisprudence. This is judicial activism at its finest," said Schultz. "And it's brought to you, in part, by an attorney general's office who again has failed at doing its fundamental job of defending Minnesota's statutes."
The case was the first big test in a post-Roe world of Doe v. Gomez, a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that found abortion access was a constitutional right, going further than Roe v. Wade, allowing medical assistance to be used to pay for abortions for low-income women.
Gilligan wrote that the Gomez decision is unaffected by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned Roe v. Wade.
"There is no dispute that Gomez protects the right to choose whether to have an abortion," he wrote, continuing: "The right to choose to have an abortion, however, would be meaningless without the right to access abortion care."
The judge also ruled that abortion providers are no longer subject to felony penalties for violating state regulations on the procedure. He criticized the state's 24-hour waiting period law, known as the "mandatory delay law," as overly broad.
"Forcing abortion patients to go beyond informed consent, to require them to be really, really certain of their decision, insults their intelligence and decision-making capabilities," he wrote.
But the district judge didn't grant everything abortion rights groups were seeking. The judge upheld requirements for physicians to report certain information to the state on abortions they provide, although he eliminated criminal penalties related to noncompliance.
The groups behind the lawsuit said they think eliminating the physician requirement for abortions — including for medication abortions — will have the biggest impact immediately for the increasing number of people traveling to Minnesota from states that ban abortions.
"I have somebody in my inbox who has to travel to Colorado because they weren't able to get timely care in Minnesota," said Shayla Walker, executive director of the abortion rights group Our Justice. "Now that more providers are able to offer this service, that is going to definitely be a game changer."
Read the ruling:
Staff writers Ryan Faircloth and Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.