Small Minnesota town considering abortion ordinance, attorney general calls it 'unconstitutional'
The town of Prinsburg, pop. 515, is being thrust into the larger, national debate over abortion as it considers an ordinance that would allow residents to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers.
PRINSBURG, Minn. — A proposed ordinance that would allow residents in Prinsburg to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers could thrust the small Kandiyohi County community of just over 500 residents into the larger debate over abortion, if not the courtroom as well.
Shortly after news of the proposed ordinance broke, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison sent a letter to Prinsburg Mayor Roger Ahrenholz. The Nov. 23 letter to the city advised that “any municipal ordinance which limits the fundamental rights of pregnant Minnesotans to receive an abortion is unconstitutional.”
“No city in Minnesota has the power to restrict the right to abortion or enact conflicting regulations on health care providers,” stated the attorney general.
State Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, brought the proposed ordinance to the Prinsburg City Council on Nov. 15. The council took it under consideration. It will need to hold a public hearing before taking action, according to Miller. He has been working with Pro-Life Ministries of St. Paul after deciding not to seek re-election to the Minnesota House of Representatives.
Miller told the West Central Tribune that he is confident the City Council and residents will support the ordinance. “This is a community that stands for life and stands for faith,” he said.
Nonetheless, he said he wants to see public discussion in the community before it is adopted. He said he intends to hold a town meeting, most likely early next year.
He stated that it is important to have community support. The city is sure to face challenges from the outside, he said.
Miller said he expects the new Minnesota Legislature to codify the state’s abortion rights. If that occurs, how the rights are codified could affect any litigation brought over the ordinance.
However, Prinsburg will not have the expense of defending the ordinance should it be approved and challenged in court, according to Miller. A pro-life organization has committed to writing and defending the ordinance.
The ordinance is based on a similar ordinance originally adopted by communities in Texas. The ordinance was successfully defended in a case against the city of Lubbock, Texas, according to Miller.
The ordinance is not in apparent conflict with Texas law, however, as that state has effectively banned abortion, except if the "pregnant patient is facing 'a life-threatening physical condition aggravated by, caused by, or arising from a pregnancy,'” according to a Texas Tribune news story describing Texas abortion law.
The text of the ordinance is being drafted for Prinsburg by the attorney who drafted the Texas ordinances. Attorney Jonathan Mitchell is working with the Thomas Moore Society, a pro-life organization. The organization has agreed to both write and defend the ordinance for the city of Prinsburg, according to Miller.
He’s heard from those who argue the ordinance cannot work legally in Minnesota, but he believes it will.
“If you want to file a lawsuit against us, go ahead. Be forewarned that these ordinances have won court challenges every single time,” he said.
The ordinance would allow any resident to bring a civil lawsuit against an abortion provider for performing an abortion in the community. While the city does not have a medical clinic, Miller said abortions can be performed in the community in two other ways: By medication mailed to residents or by a mobile clinic.
Miller is hoping to see other communities in the state adopt the ordinance and said he has discussed it with other communities who are interested.
“These unborn children are human beings and they need to be defended.,” said Miller of his work. “I am firmly convinced I have been called by God to do this work at this time and so I am going to be faithful to it,” he told the West Central Tribune.
Organizations supporting reproductive rights believe the proposed ordinance violates state constitutional rights and is contrary to the views of most Minnesotans.
“The Minnesota courts have repeatedly 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.
According to its website , the organization often represents individuals in legal cases brought under federal civil rights statutes as well as state statutes like the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Peterson said the recent election showed that there is "overwhelming support" for protecting abortion rights in the state.
She called Miller’s proposal an “act of desperation.” She charged that Miller and his supporters are “trying to import this outrageous scheme from Texas where they are essentially asking neighbors to spy on their neighbors to monitor their pregnancy status and health care ... then, waste taxpayer dollars bringing civil lawsuits to scare, shame and punish their own neighbors for accessing health care that is safe, legal and constitutionally protected in Minnesota.”
Peterson said it is more than a matter of access to health care for people facing pregnancy at a time that is not right for them. She said anti-abortion groups are also attempting to prevent care for miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies.
“Let’s leave the health care to the health care providers and decisions about what health care they need to the patients themselves,” said Peterson, “and not find ways to force people’s personal or religious or moral beliefs on each other.”