A judge struck down several Minnesota abortion restrictions. What are the implications of that decision?

Monday, a Ramsey County judge ruled that several Minnesota laws regulating abortion are unconstitutional.

To understand both the ruling’s legal and political implications, 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke with David Schultz, a constitutional law expert from Hamline University. Schultz also teaches constitutional law at the University of Minnesota. This conversation has been edited slightly for length and clarity. 

How did the judge reach this decision? 

Schultz: What he did was look at a variety of provisions in the Minnesota Constitution. More specifically, what he looked at is an important 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court opinion. It was called, referred to as the Gomez decision. And the Minnesota Supreme Court said back then that the Minnesota Constitution protects the right of women to terminate a pregnancy. This district court opinion expands upon the Gomez opinion and essentially says that not only do women have a state constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy but that many of the laws in place that require women to wait 24 hours or for minors to receive parental consent, those laws violate various provisions of the Minnesota Constitution.

Will it be very hard to overturn this ruling?

OK, so keep in mind this is a district court opinion in Minnesota. Now, it could still be overturned or modified by the Minnesota Court of Appeals or the Minnesota Supreme Court if the attorney general appeals. But this is a case that cannot go to the U.S. Supreme Court, because the Minnesota courts, specifically, the Minnesota Supreme Court, gets the final word on what the Minnesota Constitution means. 

And what does this mean for Minnesota now and as far as access to abortion rights and for women in other states? 

It dramatically improves the capacity and ability of women to access abortion services in the state of Minnesota. And in turn, this is going to make it easier for women traveling from elsewhere in the country to go to Minnesota, and this is especially important for people who support abortion rights because almost all of our neighboring states are going to have dramatically restricted abortion laws in their states.

What kind of position does this put Attorney General Keith Ellison in?

It puts them in a very strange position because the attorney general is supposed to defend state laws, which means he’s supposed to be defending these abortion laws. On the other hand, we know he’s pro-choice, pro-abortion rights. We also know that if he were to defend this law, that could alienate him from part of his political base, so it puts them in a difficult position. Now he does have an option. When the Gomez opinion was decided, you know, over a quarter-century ago, the attorney general back then opted not to defend state laws which restricted abortion. Keith Ellison could do that too. It’s rare, but it’s a possibility.