Prosecutor tries to intervene in Minnesota abortion restrictions case

It's up to a Ramsey County judge whether a prosecutor in Minnesota's smallest county can intervene in a case over the state's abortion restrictions that the judge ruled unconstitutional last month.

Traverse County Attorney Matthew Franzese wants to fight District Court Judge Thomas Gilligan's decision. But first, he needs Gilligan to open the door and let him be a party to the case. Franzese did not appear during a Friday hearing on the matter, where Gilligan batted away arguments from Franzese's lawyer.

In July, Gilligan struck down several laws, including the state's 24-hour waiting period and two-party parental notification. That decision loosened Minnesota abortion restrictions at a time when several states have imposed bans after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

DFL Attorney General Keith Ellison, who supports abortion rights, declined to appeal the ruling, arguing that Minnesota taxpayers had already spent more than $600,000 defending the laws and an appeal would not change the outcome. Enter Franzese, seeking to take up the defense of the laws.

"My client wants to intervene because they’re going file an appeal. That’s it," William Mohrman, Franzese's attorney, said in Friday's virtual hearing. "I don’t know why the attorney general's office has a problem with that. They apparently have said in press releases and the like they don’t want to spend money or resources appealing the case. Fine. Don’t appeal it. We’ll appeal it."

The case's original opponents are now on the same side, arguing that the case should not continue. Ellison's office said Franzese should not be allowed to intervene 38 months after the case started.

Gender Justice, a pro-abortion rights group, originally filed the lawsuit against the state in 2019.  An attorney for the group said it would be harmful if the case went on.

"What the court has done is it has put a lot of clarity for abortion patients and abortion providers," said Jess Braverman, Gender Justice's legal director. "I don’t know why we want to muddle that so this law firm can put forward its pet issue that belongs in a law review article."

Multiple times on Friday afternoon, Gilligan asked Mohrman why Franzese should be allowed to intervene more than three years into the case. Mohrman said that the timing was "irrelevant," to which the judge responded, "I think it's a critical issue."

Franzese is questioning whether Gilligan's ruling applies to him or anyone outside of Ramsey County. But district court orders in constitutional challenges have statewide effect, Gilligan said.

"What is unclear about that?" the judge asked. He then asked Mohrman for cases that said otherwise. The lawyer could not name one.

Traverse County, a rural county in western Minnesota that borders both North and South Dakota, has 3,300 residents.

The county does not have an abortion provider. Between 2018 and 2021, no women from Traverse County got an abortion in Minnesota, according to state data.