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Small Minnesota city rejects ordinance allowing citizens to sue abortion providers

Without comment but on a unanimous vote, Prinsburg City Council members in a special meeting Friday, Dec. 2, denied a proposed ordinance that would have allowed residents to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers.

Prinsburg sign
The town sign for Prinsburg, Minnesota.
Contributed / Dennis Benson / Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission
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PRINSBURG, Minn. — City Council members in Prinsburg, Minnesota, made it clear they are not willing to subject the small community to the legal and other challenges that might arise from adopting an ordinance to allow residents to bring civil lawsuits against abortion providers.

On a unanimous vote Friday, Dec. 2, council members voted to deny an ordinance proposed by State Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, to allow civil action against abortion providers. Council members Mitch Swart and Greg Bonnema offered the motion at a special meeting convened Friday afternoon.

Mayor Roger Ahrenholz
Prinsburg Mayor Roger Ahrenholz, right, reads from a written narrative that describes how the proposed abortion ordinance had been brought to the City Council for consideration and the reaction that has followed moments before a motion was offered to deny it during a special meeting Dec. 2, 2022, in Prinsburg.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

The vote came with no discussion or comments, but before the council heard the motion to deny the ordinance, Mayor Roger Ahrenholz outlined the challenges the city would likely face were it enacted.

The mayor said the city had received a letter from Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison advising the proposed ordinance was unconstitutional in Minnesota.

The mayor also pointed out that the city’s legal counsel had not provided City Council members with any case law or legal opinion to rebut the attorney general’s position on the proposed ordinance.

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In a Nov. 23 letter to the city of Prinsburg, Ellison stated “any municipal ordinance which limits the fundamental rights of pregnant Minnesotans to receive an abortion is unconstitutional.”

The proposed ordinance states that “life begins at conception” and terms abortion “a murderous act of violence …."

Miller, a Prinsburg resident, had brought the proposed ordinance to the Prinsburg City Council on Nov. 15. The mayor said council members tabled discussion with intentions to consider it at a special meeting.

Rep. Tim Miller
Rep. Tim Miller
Contributed / Minnesota House of Representatives

He said council members and citizens in the community were subsequently surprised to find themselves “thrust into the spotlight” due to media coverage of the proposal.

Miller watched the council vote on Friday afternoon, and afterward said that he was disappointed. He said he will continue to work with other communities in the state interested in a similar ordinance.

It was originally adopted by communities in Texas. The ordinance is not in apparent conflict with Texas law, however, as that state has effectively banned abortion with narrow exception.

Miller is working with Pro-Life Ministries of St. Paul in a position he accepted shortly before announcing this year that he was not seeking re-election to the Minnesota Legislature.

He said he is hopeful that Prinsburg might reconsider the ordinance at some point.

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Related:
Democrats fast-tracked through the Legislature the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act, which supports existing constitutional protections for abortion in Minnesota.
DFL lawmakers fast-tracked abortion protections through the Capitol to get a bill to the governor’s desk. Gov. Tim Walz said signing the protections into law is a top priority.
Crisis pregnancy centers received almost $3 million in taxpayer funds in 2022. Soon, sharing only medically accurate information could be a prerequisite for funding.
DFL lawmakers are fast-tracking abortion protections through the capitol. House members voted 69-65 Thursday to pass their version of the bill, with just one DFLer joining Republicans in opposition.

The proposed ordinance was drafted for Prinsburg by attorney Jonathan Mitchell with the Thomas Moore Society, an anti-abortion rights organization. Miller said Mitchell and the Thomas Moore Society had offered to assist Prinsburg in defending any legal challenges.

Miller said he believes that Ellison — as well as the legal counsel for Prinsburg — is wrong that the ordinance cannot be legally upheld in Minnesota.

Miller remains committed to seeing it adopted. “There are human beings that need to be defended,” he said.

While there is no medical facility operating in Prinsburg, the ordinance could be used to file civil lawsuits against providers of abortion medicines or mobile abortion clinics that might visit the community, Miller said. It would allow civil lawsuits by residents against providers, and the city would not be a party to any legal action, he said.

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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