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Minnesota judge dismisses lawsuit seeking to eliminate public funding for abortion care

By Kay Steiger
Friday, May 3, 2013 11:26 EDT
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Brian and Denise Walker
 
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A Minnesota judge dismissed a lawsuit on Thursday evening filed in November 2012 by an anti-choice couple “on behalf” of Minnesota taxpayers that sought to eliminate all state insurance coverage of abortion services.

The order, issued by District Court Judge Kathleen R. Gearin, found that Minnesota’s case law on this is actually quite strong. In a 1995 lawsuit, Doe v. Gomez, the Minnesota Supreme Court struck down a ban on state funding of abortion, ruling that that so long as Minnesota funded pregnancy care, it could not refuse to fund care related to “therapeutic abortion.”

Center for Reproductive Rights litigation director, Julie Rikelman, told Raw Story: “It’s a great ruling. It’s a great victory for poor women in Minnesota. … She said that the state has been doing exactly what it’s supposed to under the constitution by paying for these medically necessary procedures that poor women need and that she was dismissing the plaintiffs’ case because there was no reason to undo what the Minnesota Supreme Court had so carefully done.”

The plaintiffs, Rev. Brian Walker and his wife Denise Walker, argued that the Minnesota department of health is insufficiently scrutinizing whether taxpayer funding was going to only medically necessary abortions and that the state had illegally paid for more than 37,000 abortions since 1999. Gearin addresses this concern in her ruling, writing that Doe v. Gomez also held that the Minnesota constitution guarantees a right to privacy, and “the difficult decision whether to obtain a therapeutic abortion will not be made by the government, but will be left to the woman and her doctor.”

Rikelman explained, “The claim here was that it was unreasonable for the state to rely on doctors signing documentation saying that they had provided the procedure for medically necessary reasons, but of course states and insurance companies rely on doctors all the time. That’s the entire way the medical system works. We trust doctors to provide accurate information about why they’re providing medical treatment to women.”

The anti-choice group Alliance Defending Freedom filed the suit on the Walkers’ behalf, and they still have the prerogative to appeal the decision. Rikelman said she believes it’s likely they will. As a group with a mission to make all abortion illegal, “it seems hard to imagine that they will give up so quickly,” she said.

The Walkers, though they filed the suit “on behalf of” Minnesota taxpayers, are staunch anti-abortion advocates. In a video posted to YouTube, the Walkers can be seen at a 2011 West Coast March for Life rally, in which they talk about how they once had an abortion when Denise Walker became pregnant while they were engaged, but have since become anti-choice.

Brian Walker explained he was there to describe the “devastation abortion has had on my life. It does affect men as well.” Walker said when he discovered the pregnancy, “I copped out. I was a punk and I was a liar,” he said.

Denise Walker followed her husband’s speech, saying, “If God can forgive someone like me, someone who was absolutely bent on hell … and put three children to death on those thrones, if he could forgive somebody like me, if there’s anybody out there who needs forgiveness for anything, he will forgive you because he forgave me, praise God. I want you to know that my great-great-great grandmother was a slave and my great-great-great grandfather was a slave … and they knew what it was like to not be known as a person.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights and Minnesota-based non-profit Gender Justice filed a related motion in February as a preliminary effort to reaffirm the Doe v. Gomez decision when the Walkers filed their suit. The February motion was filed on behalf of Pro-Choice Resources, a Minnesota group that helps provide funding to low-income women seeking abortion and the same group that sued to prompt the Supreme Court’s decision in 1995.

“We are stepping in to stop the anti-choice ideologues who seek to stand between low-income women and the health care that is their right under the law,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a press release when the suit was filed.

It’s unclear if Judge Gearin will rule on the motion filed in February, since she dismissed the Walkers’ case.

Read Judge Gearin’s decision:

Dismissal of Walker v. Jesson

Watch the Walkers at the 2011 West Coast March for Life rally.

Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
 
 
 
 
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