Judge rules that several Minnesota abortion restrictions are unconstitutional

A Ramsey County judge has ruled that several Minnesota laws regulating abortion are unconstitutional.

The lawsuit was originally filed by an unnamed obstetrician-gynecologist, an unnamed nurse midwife and Our Justice, a Minnesota nonprofit that helps those seeking abortion, in 2019, claiming that several state abortion laws were unconstitutional because they violate the right to privacy, equal protection, free speech, the prohibition on special legislation, and a prohibition on vague laws.

What are the laws the ruling addresses?

Specifically, the trio pointed to the “physician-only law,” the “hospitalization law,” “reporting laws,” the “two-parent notification law,” “felony penalties” laws, the “mandatory disclosure law,” the “physician disclosure law” and the “mandatory delay law.”

Monday, Judge Thomas A. Gilligan, Jr., ruled that the laws violate the state’s constitution and stopped them from being enforced, effective immediately.

He based his ruling on the state’s landmark 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling, Doe v. Gomez, making abortion access a fundamental right in the state constitution.

The ruling comes less than three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, enabling states to ban abortions. Gilligan, however, explicitly noted that the ruling didn’t affect his decision in this case because Minnesota’s Constitution offers greater protection than the U.S. Constitution.

Below is a look at what each law mandated and what the argument in the case was in favor of and against it.

The physician-only law only allowed physicians to perform abortions. The plaintiffs argued that the law made abortion less accessible and less affordable when qualified advance-practice clinicians and (to an extent) some advanced practice registered nurses have the skills for abortion care. The defense largely agreed.

The hospitalization law required abortions after the first trimester to be performed in a hospital or abortion facility. The plaintiffs argued that dilation and extraction is equally safe in a hospital and an abortion facility, except for certain cases. The defense contended that it keeps pregnant women safe by ensuring safe and sanitary facilities for the procedure.

The reporting laws at issue require physicians and abortion facilities to make specific reports to the state’s health commissioner. Those reports include when a woman dies from any cause within 30 days of an abortion or within 90 days if possibly related to an abortion; calendar-year data for 13 abortion-related categories; abortion complications; information on the informed consent that patients are given; and the health commissioner’s public report on abortion data from physicians and facilities. The plaintiffs argued that the reports burdened patients and health care providers and coerce the disclosure of information. The defense contended that it’s important for the public to understand how frequent and safe abortion is.

The felony penalties laws allow medical practitioners providing abortions to be subject to felony criminal charges if they willfully omit details, willfully fail to submit required documents or fail to follow the mandatory disclosure law. The plaintiffs argued that abortion providers shouldn’t be treated differently than other medical practitioners, who generally face civil malpractice charges, not felony criminal charges. The defense said the laws don’t seem to affect abortion rates.

The two-parent notification law required both parents of a minor to be notified 48 hours before a minor’s abortion procedure. The plaintiffs argued that, by 14, most minors can provide informed consent for medical care the same as adults, most already discuss the procedure with a trusted adult and some can’t notify both parents even if they want to due to other circumstances.

The mandatory disclosure law required informed consent — covering medical risks of the procedure, age of the fetus, medical assistance benefits, the father’s liability for child support and the right to review health department documents — 24 hours before abortions. Experts noted that some of the information required in the law wasn’t substantiated by research. The defense contended it ensures up-to-date information is given to patients but admitted that some of the information isn’t substantiated.

The physician disclosure law required some of the informed consent to be made only by the physician performing the abortion or a referring physician. The plaintiffs said other qualified personnel are capable of delivering that information.

The mandatory delay law required a 24-hour waiting period, absent a medical emergency. The plaintiffs argued the law singled out abortion patients for unique treatment, as other procedures with potentially life-altering effects don’t require the same waiting period. The defense contended it allows for further consideration.

What is the response to the ruling?

Attorney General Keith Ellison issued the following statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS regarding the ruling:

“My team and I are reviewing the 140-page decision and are beginning to consult with our clients about any next steps. It’s clear Judge Gilligan, who has had this case for three years, has put much thought into this decision that he clearly did not take lightly.”

Shayla Walker, executive director of Our Justice, said, “Restrictions on abortion care not only make essential health care financially and logistically inaccessible, they also disproportionately impact people of color, people with low incomes, queer and trans people who reach out to our abortion assistance fund. In light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, every piece of red tape matters for Minnesotans and people traveling to Minnesota for abortion care. Today’s ruling is an important step toward making abortion accessible to everyone who needs it.”

Anti-abortion advocates bashed the ruling.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, issued a statement calling on Ellison to appeal the decision, adding, “Republicans will continue to defend common-sense pro-life laws that protect the health and safety of mothers, and work to overturn this reckless decision that puts mothers’ lives at risk.”

“The laws challenged in this case are commonsense measures that support and empower pregnant women,” Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Executive Director Scott Fischbach said. “Today’s ruling striking them down is extreme and without a foundation in the Minnesota Constitution. Even the U.S. Supreme Court, under Roe v. Wade and subsequent decisions, allowed these very modest types of laws. Yet today’s ruling blocks them and prevents Minnesotans from enacting reasonable protections for unborn children and their mothers. The decision must be appealed.”

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has also reached out to Gov. Tim Walz’s office for comment but hasn’t yet heard back.