Prinsburg, a little town in Kandiyohi County with a population of just over 500, may find itself in the middle of the wider fight over abortion if its proposed code to empower people to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers is passed.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison wrote to Prinsburg Mayor Roger Ahrenholz shortly after word of the planned legislation spread. The city was informed on November 23 that “any local rule which inhibits the basic rights of pregnant Minnesotans to get an abortion is unconstitutional.”
The state’s top lawyer has said that no municipality in Minnesota may violate a woman’s right to an abortion by passing a law that would make it illegal for doctors to perform abortions.
Prinsburg’s Republican state representative Tim Miller introduced the legislation on November 15. Because there is no abortion clinic in their town, the council in western Minnesota gave it some thought. Miller claims that it must first conduct a public hearing on the matter. After opting not to run for reelection to the Minnesota House of Representatives, he began working with Pro-Life Ministries of St. Paul.
The new conservative supermajority on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade in June, which established a constitutional right to have an abortion, set off the current debate. Abortion is still lawful in Minnesota because the state’s top court upheld the right to abortion in a 1992 case. However, those who advocate for abortion access seek the legal protection of state legislation if the Minnesota Supreme Court changes its mind in the future.
Miller expressed optimism to the Forum News Service about the ordinance’s chances of passing the Prinsburg City Council and popular vote.
Saying, “This is a community that stands for life and stands for religion,” he emphasized the community’s commitment to both.
However, he said that he desires community dialogue before adoption. He has announced plans to convene a community gathering maybe early in the new year.
Miller emphasized the need for widespread support. He predicted that the city will face threats from elsewhere.
Miller predicted that the next Democratic-controlled Minnesota Legislature will enshrine abortion rights in law. If that happens, the rights’ codification could influence any lawsuits against the ordinance.
Miller claims that even if the law is passed and contested in court, Prinsburg will not be responsible for the cost of defending it. The ordinance will be written and defended by an anti-abortion group.
The ordinance’s foundation is a model law passed by Texas municipalities. Miller claims the law was upheld in court when it was challenged by the city of Lubbock, Texas.
This legislation does not seem to be in violation of Texas law, which essentially prohibits abortions except in cases when a “pregnant patient is confronting a life-threatening health condition worsened by, caused by, or originating from a pregnancy,” as described in a Texas Tribune article.
The attorney responsible for drafting the Texas ordinances is now working on the wording of the ordinance for Prinsburg. The anti-abortion Thomas Moore Society employs the legal services of Jonathan Mitchell. Miller claims that the group has undertaken to draft and defend the law on behalf of the municipal of Prinsburg.
He’s heard from individuals who think that the ordinance cannot operate legally in Minnesota, but he believes it will.
You may proceed with a lawsuit against us if you like. He cautioned, “Just so you know, these ordinances have always prevailed in judicial challenges.”
The bill would make it possible for any local to sue a clinic or doctor that offers abortion services in civil court. Miller added that although there is no abortion facility or even a medical clinic in the city, people may still get abortions over the mail with medicine or through a mobile clinic.
Miller has spoken with other interesting cities in the state in the hopes that they would approve the law.
Miller has remarked, “These unborn infants are human people, and they deserve to be safeguarded.” A fervent believer in a divine calling, he said, “I am going to be loyal to this task at this moment.”
Groups who advocate for reproductive freedom feel the proposed law goes against Minnesotans’ values and the state constitution.
“The Minnesota courts have said Minnesotans have a right to abortion and that the government can’t interfere or put thumbs on the scale to influence someone’s decision about abortion or continuing a pregnancy,” said Megan Peterson, executive director of Gender Justice, a nonprofit legal and policy advocacy organization.
From what I can see from their website, they provide legal representation for those who are alleging violations of state and federal civil rights laws, such as the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Peterson said that the results of the last election demonstrated “overwhelming support” for preserving abortion rights in the state.
Miller’s offer was described as a “desperate deed” by her. She claimed Miller and his backers were “trying to import this outrageous scheme from Texas where they are essentially asking neighbors to spy on each other to monitor their pregnancy status and health care” and “then, waste taxpayer dollars bringing civil lawsuits to scare, shame, and punish their neighbors for accessing health care that is safe, legal, and constitutionally protected in Minnesota.”
Peterson argued that untimely pregnancies are about more than just getting individuals to access to medical treatment. She said that anti-abortion activists are also working to cut off access to treatment for women experiencing losses and ectopic pregnancies.
Peterson said that individuals shouldn’t try to impose their morals and values on others in the name of health care, saying, “Let’s leave the health care to the health care practitioners and choices about what health care they need to the patients themselves.”