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Attorney General Keith Ellison vows to legally defend travelers who come to Minnesota for abortions

21 June 2022

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison vowed Tuesday to legally defend travelers who come here to get an abortion and face prosecution in their own states for doing so.

If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, Minnesota will be prepared to serve and defend an influx of abortion patients who come from states that outlaw the procedure, Ellison said during a news conference at the State Capitol. Ellison said he will reject extradition requests and fight other states in court if necessary.

“No one who travels from another state to seek an abortion that’s legal in Minnesota is going to be prosecuted,” Ellison said. “I will directly intervene to stop any such prosecution events.”

Abortion could quickly become illegal in more than two dozen states, including South Dakota, if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The right to an abortion will remain protected in Minnesota even if the high court overturns the landmark case because of a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling that affirmed women’s constitutional right to abortion on the state level.

The full extent of legal options Ellison could take is still unclear, he said, because “a lot of this stuff is uncharted.”

Texas’ new abortion law, for example, states that anyone who performs or aids with an abortion can be sued. Theoretically, Ellison said, a Minnesota provider could be sued for performing an abortion on a Texan who traveled here. Ellison said he would defend Minnesota providers in court if that occurred.

If people who come here for abortions return to their state and are subsequently prosecuted, Ellison said he would still seek to defend their rights.

“People get to travel,” Ellison said, alluding to the constitutional right to travel. “If what you’re doing is legal in the state of Minnesota, you shouldn’t be punished for doing it in the state of Minnesota.”

Ellison is facing a serious election challenge this year from endorsed Republican candidate Jim Schultz, who opposes abortion rights.

Schultz declined to comment on how he would handle cases of states trying to prosecute people who come to Minnesota to get an abortion. Instead, he criticized Ellison for supporting abortion rights.

“I have repeatedly stated that I am pro-life, yet, unlike Keith Ellison, I will not debase the Office of the Attorney General with political theater or personal agendas,” Schultz said in a statement to the Star Tribune. “I will take politics out of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office.”

During a debate earlier this year with other Republican attorney general candidates, Schultz said he would “do everything I can to ensure that the most vulnerable among us, the unborn child, are defended aggressively.”

Ellison was joined by Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, and Mitchell Hamline School of Law Prof. Michael Steenson at the Tuesday news conference.

Stoesz said abortion providers will not disclose the names of patients to states because of health care privacy laws. However, patients could be outed by others who learn of their abortions.

Steenson predicted that a post-Roe legal landscape will be “in absolute chaos” with every state having separate, and sometimes conflicting, policies.

“Abortion regulations are going to be subjected to a very low standard of review. When they’re challenged in federal court, there’s going to be extreme deference to the states,” Steenson said. “It’s going to take a long time to sort out those issues.”

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