Minnesota Judge Tosses Lawsuit Challenging Insurance Coverage for Abortions


On Thursday, Minnesota Judge Kathleen Gearin dismissed a lawsuit seeking to end all state insurance coverage of abortion services for women.

Minnesota is one of a handful of states that protects via state law the use of Medicaid funds for abortion services in some limited circumstances, including when an abortion is “medically necessary.” The Doe v. Gomez decision held that the Minnesota Constitution’s guaranteed right to privacy ensured “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.” Under Gomez, then, the state’s Department of Human Services is constitutionally required to cover therapeutic abortions for women eligible for public assistance. To monitor those expenditures, DHS has women provide a statement of medical necessity, completed and signed by a doctor to justify the expenditure.

Since the ruling, anti-choice activists in Minnesota have made undoing Gomez a key focus, and this latest lawsuit is simply another iteration of that quest.

The plaintiffs, the Rev. Brian Walker and his wife Denise Walker, filed the lawsuit as a “taxpayers’ challenge,” alleging that DHS had illegally funded over 37,000 abortions since 1999, since some medical necessity statements included economic reasons among the reasons for needing a procedure. Further, the plaintiffs argued, because there’s no way for DHS to accurately and sufficiently police the reasoning offered by women and their providers, the only sensible solution is to dissolve the Gomez precedent entirely.

Judge Gearin made short work of plaintiffs’ claims, holding they failed as a matter of law and noting that the department’s “decision to rely upon a physician’s decision that a patient is seeking an abortion for legitimate therapeutic reasons is neither illegal or unreasonable.” Furthermore, the court noted, it would be illegal for any court to order DHS to conduct an accounting like the one requested by the plaintiffs because it would “require the Court to become excessively involved in the operations an policies of the Department of Human Services.” The outcome pushed by the plaintiffs would “force this judicial branch to interfere with the executive branch’s duty to implement both case law and legislatively enacted statutes.” Finally, the court noted, “[t]he procedure set up by DHS in the exercise of its discretion may not be perfect, but it does ensure that the woman’s right to privacy in consulting with her doctor about a difficult decision is protected.”

Stephanie Toti, senior staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights told RH Reality Check, “We’re thrilled the suit was dismissed, and rightly so. We think the opinion got it right that there is no evidence of illegality or impropriety as was alleged.”

Toti explained that the ultimate goal of the lawsuit was to eliminate fairness in insurance coverage for abortion services. “The judge reaffirmed that women have a fundamental right to access abortion services” Toti said. “It’s critical that all women have access to affordable reproductive care, including abortion. These are essential services to protect their health.”

The national anti-choice advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom represents the Walkers and filed the suit on their behalf. In February of this year, the Center for Reproductive Rights and Minnesota-based non-profit Gender Justice filed a motion to intervene in the suit on behalf of a Minnesota group, Pro-Choice Resources, which helps provide funding to low-income women seeking abortion care. On Friday, Judge Gearin denied that motion as moot, citing dismissal of the Walkers’ claims. Pro-Choice Resources and its attorneys have not yet decided whether they will appeal that ruling and are considering all available next steps.

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  • J S

    If an abortion is being paid for because of only “economic” reasons (as many of them are), it is not a “medically necessary” procedure in any meaningful way, although I certainly understand why a pro-abortion-funding advocate would prefer to hide behind misleading language of that type.

    I get it: the idea is that virtually all abortions can be covered when they’re “medically necessary” even though an overwhelming majority of “medically necessary” abortions paid for by the state are actually elective and non-therapeutic (not being performed as a means of treatment for a disease, illness, or injury) except in the sense that they’re providing some level of utility to women who simply don’t want to keep their babies. Yeah, I imagine it’s easier to use ambiguous and misleading language when drafting judicial opinions for the purpose of instituting state-funded abortion-on-demand, because it would sound more bizarre if someone addressed the issue honestly (i.e., “the state constitution requires public funding for all abortions on request”). But if one is so committed to a position that women should be able to have publicly-funded abortions for whatever their reasons are (like most persons involved in the pro-choice movement are), then it would add credibility to the stance if one did not depend on using misleading, false, or ambiguous language like is happening here.

    • colleen2

      It takes a “pro-life’ asshole to reduce “I cannot afford to have a child” to to ‘economic reasons’ and then dismiss that very reasonable and responsible position. You ‘get’ nothing.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000487270316 Alicia Zarycki

      So a person who is responsible enough to recognize they can’t provide the support a child needs isn’t good enough? Yeah, because knowingly bringing a child that will be neglected and have it needs unmet is so much more responsible. Especially when then the whole society the needs to intervene to try to provide and catch the neglect before the child ends up too greivous harmed, when the mother acknowledging her short comings right away and keeping this from ever occuring and ever negatively dragging upon the very limited resources of society to support these children adequately. Our resources to support children is already so overextended that foster care isn’t a guarantee to prevent children from abuse, neglect, and starvation, but who cares because your religious beliefs should instead be applied to everyone because obviously preventing the suffering of women and children isn’t as important as forcing women to bear children society can’t help and support. You are a very sick person that you want to hurt more women and children and call it love.

      • http://www.facebook.com/amanda.kazarian Amanda Kazarian

        Well said!

        • HeilMary1

          Ditto!

    • HeilMary1

      ALL abortions are medically necessary since ALL childbirths inflict permanent deadly, disabling, marriage-ruining and bankrupting injuries on women. Just because most women don’t directly guilt trip their kids over these injuries doesn’t mean they don’t occur and trigger our 50% divorce rate. What mother openly berates her kids for causing HER bladder and bowel incontinence and breast cancer? Depends commercial star June Allyson actually did open up in an interview that her own mother praised her for doing those embarrassing commercials because she herself wore adult diapers from childbirth injuries. I’ll bet you’re a guy who wouldn’t last five minutes with any woman who gained even five pounds from pregnancy!

    • http://www.facebook.com/Feral.9.Hex Carla Clark

      ALL abortions return a woman to her former, ‘natural’ state of health. How is that non-therapeutic? All abortions are elective, btw? If a woman wants to carry a dangerous and risky pregnancy to term she should be able to. Fetuses are not babies. Adoption is an option for an unwanted baby/child. Abortion is an option for an unwanted pregnancy. I don’t see you advocating for language clarity in the constitution for the right to bear arms or the right to fight (illegal) wars. Btw, Pro-Choicers are committed to having publicly-funded pregnancies AND abortions. With your opposition to publicly-funded abortions, you also oppose publicly funded pregnancies. Just for clarity’s sake. Hypocrite.

      • HeilMary1

        Exactly!

  • jovan1984

    I wish someone would file a taxpayers’ challenge against the Hyde Amendment. That amendment discriminates against middle- and low-income women.