The city council in the small western Minnesota town of Prinsburg has unanimously shelved a proposed ordinance that would have allowed its residents to sue abortion providers, passing on the chance to inject itself into the national legal skirmish over abortion.
It's been less than three weeks since the small town south of Willmar drew outsized attention over the proposed ordinance. But on Friday, the council opted not to go forward with the measure sought by a local Republican legislator that echoed legislation in Republican-led states that have been restricting abortion access in the months since the U.S. Supreme overturned Roe vs. Wade.
"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," city leaders said in a statement posted to the city website. "The council plans no further discussion or comment regarding the proposed ordinance."
Mayor Roger Ahrenholz did not return an e-mail seeking comment. The West Central Tribune in Willmar reported the council voted the measure down with no public discussion or comment beforehand.
Outgoing State Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, was pushing for the measure. In an interview Saturday, he contended that it's constitutional despite the city's position and assertions from the state attorney general's office to the contrary.
In a statement, Attorney General Keith Ellison praised the Prinsburg council's vote, saying its members "unanimously recognized the proposed ordinance was both unconstitutional and preempted by state law."
"I thank them for upholding their oaths of office by taking those concerns seriously, and I hope other communities take notice," Ellison said. "It's my job to protect the constitutional rights of Minnesotans in every community to access safe, legal abortion, and I will continue to do it."
With DFLers poised to begin the 2023 legislative session with full control of the statehouse and the governor's office, party leaders say they're looking to pass laws strengthening access to abortion in Minnesota. Emily Bisek, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, said she's hopeful that such legislation will clear the statehouse.
"Those protections are extremely important because right now the state of Minnesota has legal precedent that protects that right," Bisek said. But the Supreme Court decision showed that "those precedents can be overturned," she added.
Miller said he's in talks to introduce similar ordinances with leaders in several other municipalities, though he declined to name them. In announcing that he wouldn't seek reelection to represent House District 17A earlier this year, the soon-to-be-former legislator said he would continue his work in "defending the unborn."
Given the political makeup in St. Paul, Miller said ordinances like the one he brought to the Prinsburg City Council are the best way to limit abortion access.
He believes part of the reason Prinsburg officials voted not to enact the ordinance is because they got cold feet after media coverage thrust the town into the spotlight. Ahrenholz mentioned the attention in a video of the meeting published by KARE 11.
"They were rather taken aback by the spotlight that went on Prinsburg," Miller said.
Bisek called the effort an "unconstitutional publicity stunt."
"We appreciate the council seeing this for what it was," she said.
Bisek said her group would be watching for similar maneuvers elsewhere but noted that Ellison's reelection in November ensures any such moves would face pushback from the state.
Miller remains undaunted. "I will pit the creator of the universe against Attorney General Ellison and we will win every single time. I am fully confident in that," he said.