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Judge to rule soon on appeal in ruling blocking Minnesota abortion restrictions

Earlier this month, Traverse County Attorney Matthew Franzese filed a petition with District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan Jr. asking to intervene in the case. Gilligan in July handed a victory to abortion providers who had filed a lawsuit in 2019 challenging state regulations, including a 24-hour wait period for the procedure.

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ST. PAUL — A Ramsey County judge on Friday, Aug. 19, said he would soon rule on whether to allow a third party to appeal his decision tossing laws restricting abortion in Minnesota.

Earlier this month, Traverse County Attorney Matthew Franzese filed a petition with District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan Jr. asking to intervene in the case. Gilligan in July handed a victory to abortion providers who had filed a lawsuit in 2019 challenging state regulations including a 24-hour wait period for the procedure.

Attorney General Keith Ellison, who was defending the state’s laws, said he would not appeal the ruling. His office argued the state had already mounted a vigorous defense over the past three years and did not need to commit further public resources to protecting the law.

The Thomas More Society, a conservative Catholic nonprofit and legal advocacy group, filed the motion to intervene in the case on Franzese’s behalf on Aug. 4, arguing Gilligan’s decision could lead to confusion for prosecutors. Further, they claim the decision in Ramsey County does not apply to other jurisdictions, and that prosecutors such as Franzese can continue to enforce state abortion laws. In taking over defending the case, they hope to file an appeal with the state Court of Appeals.

Assistant Attorney General Jennifer Olson argued in court Friday that Franzese had waited too long to intervene in the case. But beyond that, she argued Franzese had no standing to get involved as his rural western Minnesota county has no abortion providers.

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“There is no allegation here that Mr. Franzese will suffer any concrete harm now or imminently,” Olson said, pointing out the prosecutor had not said whether he planned to seek charges against any abortion law violators. “He does not have a stake in this litigation.”

Traverse County, with a population of 3,200, had no abortions in 2021, according to data from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Attorney William F. Mohrman, who appeared on Franzese’s behalf, argued timeliness was irrelevant as the attorney general’s office had declined to appeal and there isn’t any further evidence needed in the case.

“My client wants to intervene, they're going to file an appeal. That's it. And I don't know why the Attorney General's Office has a problem with that,” he said.

Gilligan said, however, that if Franzese wanted to advance a new argument that the state didn’t have to accept the challenge from abortion providers in the first place, it could present an issue at appeal.

Attorney Jess Braverman with Gender Justice, the nonprofit group that brought the lawsuit challenging the state’s abortion laws, also questioned why opponents had waited through three years and extensive litigation to file their appeal.

Gilligan on Friday took the case under advisement and said he would move as quickly as possible to issue a ruling. The deadline for an appeal in Doe. v. Minnesota is Sept. 12.

Where abortion stands in Minnesota

Gilligan on July 11 ruled Minnesota abortion regulations violated fundamental rights to abortion and privacy under the state constitution. Besides the waiting period, restrictions included parental disclosure requirements for minors, restrictions on which medical staff can perform abortions, and felony penalties for violations.

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The Ramsey County ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by abortion rights activists in 2019, Doe v. Minnesota.

The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, ending nearly 50 years of federal protections for abortion rights. The procedure remains protected in Minnesota under the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez.

Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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