REGIONAL— For weeks, the unauthorized release of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would appear to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade opinion, has roiled the abortion debate nationally …
REGIONAL— For weeks, the unauthorized release of a draft U.S. Supreme Court decision that would appear to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade opinion, has roiled the abortion debate nationally and led to intense speculation over the eventual decision.
That speculation is almost certain to end within days, as the Supreme Court is expected to release the controversial decision by the end of June, before their summer recess. While the decision could have major repercussions for the reproductive rights of women in states across the country, it’s unlikely to have any immediate effect in Minnesota.
That’s due to at least two factors. First, Minnesota has not enacted any so-called “trigger laws,” which lawmakers in more than a dozen U.S. states have passed to immediately enact abortion bans in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. North and South Dakota are among those states that have enacted such trigger laws, so women there are likely to lose their right to abortion, depending on the final decision issued by the court.
Any such law in Minnesota would face an immediate constitutional challenge, given the Minnesota Supreme Court’s own 1995 decision in Jane Doe v Gomez, in which the high court voted 6-1 to affirm the right of women in the state to seek abortion services. The case went further than Roe v. Wade, and found that poor women on medical assistance can’t be denied an abortion due to inability to pay— requiring the state to pay for medically-necessary abortions for qualified low-income women. “In reaching our decision, we have interpreted the Minnesota Constitution to afford broader protection than the United States Constitution of a woman’s fundamental right to reach a private decision on whether to obtain an abortion,” wrote the Minnesota justices.
At issue was a state law that prohibited the public funding of abortion for low-income women, a law that the plaintiffs in the case alleged was discriminatory in that it effectively denied poor women a right guaranteed to other women in the state. The court did not rule on that equal protection argument. Rather, it found that the law at issue infringed on the right to privacy guaranteed to Minnesota women under the state’s Constitution. “Our decision is only based upon this court’s determination that a pregnant woman, who is eligible for medical assistance and is considering an abortion for therapeutic reasons, cannot be coerced into choosing childbirth over abortion by a legislated funding policy,” concluded the justices.
In reaching their conclusion, the state’s high court expressly rejected the 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Harris v. McRae, which determined that federal legislation that prohibited the use of federal funds for abortion services did not violate the U.S. Constitution.
Yet the state court’s decision was largely in line with other U.S. Supreme Court decisions, such as Griswold v. Connecticut, which had determined by the 1960s that women had a fundamental right to make private reproductive decisions without government interference.
Courts have consistently held that the government, whether at the local, state or federal level, must demonstrate a compelling state interest before it can place restrictions on a person’s fundamental constitutional rights.
While the state’s high court decisions would appear to prohibit any prohibition on abortion in Minnesota even in the event the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, courts can and do alter their positions over time. The current high court is arguably more conservative than the 1995 court, with three of the seven justices, including Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea, having been appointed by former Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty. One justice, Natalie Hudson, was a Ventura appointee, two others were appointed by former Gov. Mark Dayton, while the newest member of the court, Gordon Moore, was appointed by Gov. Tim Walz.
Were the Legislature to enact more abortion restrictions, or even an outright ban, the state’s high court would likely hear a challenge to the law and that decision could reach a different conclusion than the 1995 court.
A GOP-led Legislature could also potentially place a constitutional question on the state ballot, which could place the right to abortion up to a vote of the people.
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