A coalition of medical providers, reproductive health care advocates and a faith-based group filed a lawsuit Wednesday aimed at overturning a slate of Minnesota laws they say restrict access to abortion, a case that could challenge state elected officials who support abortion rights.
The complaint, filed Wednesday in Ramsey County District Court, targets a number of existing statutes, including a 24-hour waiting period, two-parent notification requirements for patients under 18 and a provision mandating that fetal remains are buried or cremated. The groups behind the challenge argue such laws deny women access to constitutionally protected abortion services and “impose burdensome and unnecessary restrictions on healthcare providers.”
The new suit could pose a political dilemma for both Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, Democrats who run on pro-abortion rights positions.
Walz, who is named in the lawsuit as the state’s chief executive, said his office is reviewing the lawsuit and “evaluating next steps.” “Governor Walz believes in a woman’s right to make her own choices about her health care,” spokeswoman Kayla Castañeda said in a statement.
The responsibility to decide whether and how to defend state laws falls on Ellison, a former DFL congressman who supports abortion rights. He has joined federal challenges to restrictions enacted by the Trump administration.
Minnesota Republicans critical of the lawsuit raised concerns about Ellison’s stance on the issues.
“Attorney General Ellison must put his personal ideology aside and defend the laws of our state — we will be watching closely to make sure his office mounts a credible defense against this outrageous attack on Minnesota’s pro-life laws,” said GOP Rep. Kurt Daudt, the minority leader in the state House.
Ellison said he was aware of the case and planned to review it.
“I have a long history standing for the right to privacy and reproductive freedom, and I hold these views proudly,” he 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.”
The lawsuit seeks to repeal a requirement that all abortions, including those induced using medication, be performed by physicians, jettison a ban on advertising sexually transmitted infection treatments, and end reporting rules mandating that clinics collect detailed information about patients seeking abortion.
“Minnesota’s abortion laws are not only outdated, they are harmful,” said Megan Peterson, executive director of the legal nonprofit Gender Justice. “Far too often they prevent people from getting the care they need when they need it.”
The suit was brought by a physician who performs abortions, a certified nurse-midwife who wants to offer the procedure and First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, which said it was acting on behalf of congregation members who seek and provide reproductive health care. Both medical providers remained anonymous in the challenge.
The statutes at the center of the state lawsuit have strong support from groups that oppose abortion. Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Executive Director Scott Fischbach blasted the challenge as a “very extreme and far-reaching lawsuit” that “targets reasonable and commonsense laws that have been in place for decades and that have helped thousands of people.”
“Women have a right to informed consent,” he said. “Parents should be notified when their minor children are undergoing abortion. Minnesotans should know about how abortion is practiced in our state. Yet the lawsuit seeks to undermine all of this.”
Supporters of the lawsuit counter that the laws create unnecessary barriers, driving up cost and limiting access without improving health care.
“To add stigma and shame through some of these coercive laws is inhumane, and that’s a reason we are fighting against them,” said the Rev. Kelli Clement, assistant minister with First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis. She cited the fetal burial and cremation law as one that affected women who had sought her faith-based counseling services.
The Minnesota challenge comes as lawmakers in other states are passing a flurry of new restrictions on abortion, including laws banning the procedure as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. This month, a near-total ban on the procedure was signed into law by Alabama’s Republican governor. Supporters of such proposals say they hope legal challenges will eventually lead the new conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court to curtail or reverse Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case that legalized abortion across the country.
Those efforts have prompted other states to take steps to strengthen abortion rights in recent months. Measures to expand or protect access passed Democratic-controlled statehouses in Nevada, New York and Vermont. Lawmakers in Illinois are considering a measure of their own.
Minnesota already has its own state Supreme Court ruling establishing a constitutional right to abortion, even if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Supporters of abortion access here hope that the 1995 ruling, known as Doe v. Gomez, will help their chances of striking down the Minnesota restrictions.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.