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Pro-choice advocates sue Minnesota over 'burdensome and unnecessary' abortion laws

With other states facing some of the strictest abortion bans in recent memory, Minnesota's pro-choice advocates are pushing back against what it sees as unjust state laws.

With other states facing some of the strictest abortion bans in recent memory, Minnesota's pro-choice advocates are pushing back against what it sees as unjust state laws. Leila Navidi

This year, several states from Alabama to Missouri have enacted strict laws abortion laws virtually unseen since Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. The response in Minnesota – seemingly worlds away – has been a lot of hand-wringing.

Hundreds gathered at the Capitol last week to protest. Scores more donated to the grassroots Yellowhammer Fund, which helps low-income women pay for abortions. But beyond that, there was little left to do but worry about whether such a thing could happen here. Minnesota's recent legislative session saw an attempt to outlaw abortion at 20 weeks into the pregnancy.

So some pro-choice advocates are going on the offensive. With the help of Gender Justice – a nonprofit dedicated to addressing gender inequality – and Lawyering Project, an organization dedicated to protecting reproductive rights, they’re taking Minnesota to court.

No Minnesota lawsuit can address Alabama’s no-exceptions-for-rape-or-incest ban, or any of the heartbeat bills in place in places like Georgia and Missouri. But Gender Justice Director Megan Peterson says Minnesota already has way more restrictions to abortion access than most people realize.

“The vast majority of people believe that our laws protect their right to abortion,” she says. But according to a survey through Gender Justice, only 4 percent of Minnesotans could name even a single state law relating to the subject. Very few people understand what their options are or aren’t.

For example, only physicians can provide abortions here – not nurse practitioners, midwives, or even physicians’ assistants. This has been the case since 1974, when methods were more complex and “may have warranted” a doctors-only policy. That’s not the case today, the complaint says. But failing to comply is still a felony.

Patients are also required to delay their abortions by at least 24 hours after first visiting a doctor, presumably to give them time to think. Fetal tissue from an abortion or miscarriage must be buried or cremated, and anyone under 18 must inform their parents, even if they're no longer a part of your life or abusive.

It’s against the law for a clinic to “advertise… the treatment or curing of venereal disease.” Some of the plaintiffs offer healthcare services for folks with STIs, the complaint says. “They seek the ability to advertise those services without risk of criminal prosecution.”

The central argument of the suit is that all these laws do little more for Minnesotans other than making it harder to get the health care they want. They may not be Alabama-caliber, but they’re “burdensome and unnecessary,” the complaint says.

It may seem like an impossibly broad and thorny task, but Amanda Allen of Lawyering Project actually feels pretty good about the whole thing.

“The constitutional standard that Minnesota courts are required to provide is very high,” she says. The burden would be on the state to provide legitimate reasons for why we have these laws. If no good reason can be found, there’s a chance they will be reconsidered.

It may seem like an odd choice, timing-wise. Why attack these laws when the sky is falling in Alabama? But Allen doesn’t see it that way.

“We really see this as a sort of watershed moment for reproductive rights,” she says. When better than now to have this conversation, with everyone already paying attention?

It’s time, Allen says, to “take a bold, proactive step.”