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Ramsey County district judge strikes down many of Minnesota's abortion restrictions

The judge struck down state requirements that only physicians can perform abortions and that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals.

ST PAUL, Minn. — A judge declared many of Minnesota's restrictions on abortion unconstitutional on Monday, including the state's mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a requirement that both parents be notified before a minor can get an abortion.

Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan also struck down Minnesota's requirements that only physicians can perform abortions and that abortions after the first trimester must be performed in hospitals.

The abortion rights groups behind the lawsuit said the ruling came at a crucial time, just over two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion across the country. Providers have been preparing for a surge in patients from neighboring upper Midwest states, and even farther away, where abortion has become illegal or is expected to become restricted.

Gilligan ruled in a lawsuit by Gender Justice and other abortion rights supporters, which argued successfully that the restrictions were unconstitutional under a landmark 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court holding that the state constitution protects abortion rights.

Physicians were required at the start of the 24-hour waiting period to provide information to the patient about the risks of the procedure, the probable gestational age of the fetus, the risks of carrying the pregnancy to term, and fetal pain. The laws also required disclosure about welfare benefits that might be available for prenatal care, childbirth and neonatal care, and that the father would be liable for child support.

The ruling means that no parental consent is needed for a minor to get an abortion in Minnesota. Gilligan noted that minors had been otherwise free to make their own reproductive and other health care decisions in the state, without notifying a parent.

“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,” Gilligan wrote.

Opponents of abortion rights condemned the decision as judicial activism. Speaking to reporters, Republican attorney general candidate Jim Schultz called on Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison to appeal the ruling and accused him of failing in his duty to aggressively to defend state laws that were adopted by the Legislature.

“They went about the defense of these statutes in a half-hearted manner because Keith Ellison, as always, puts his personal beliefs above Minnesota law,” Schultz said.

While Ellison is an abortion rights supporter, he acknowledged previously that his office had an obligation to defend the restrictions.

“My team and I are reviewing the 140-page decision and are beginning to consult with our clients about any next steps," the attorney general said in a statement. "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.”

The state’s largest anti-abortion group, Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, also condemned the ruling.

“The laws challenged in this case are common sense measures that support and empower pregnant women," Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life said in a statement. "Today’s ruling striking them down is extreme and without a foundation in the Minnesota Constitution. It blocks Minnesotans from enacting reasonable protections for unborn children and their mothers.”

"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," said Republican House Minority Leader Rep. Kurt Daudt in a statement.

However, supporters said the ruling is an important decision for health care access in Minnesota.

"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," said Shayla Walker, Executive Director of Our Justice, who was a plaintiff in the case. "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.”

“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," Amanda Allen, senior counsel and director at the Lawyering Project, said in a statement. “Minnesota has the chance to be a safe place for people amidst this national public health crisis.”

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