MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A conservative legal group claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that Minnesota taxpayers have been wrongfully charged for more than 37,000 elective abortions for indigent women since 1999.
The Alliance Defending Freedom argues that state government is allowed to pay for abortions for indigent women only for ``therapeutic reasons,'' including when the life or health of the woman is in danger or in cases of rape or incest, under state laws and a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision.
But the group, citing state health department data it reviewed, said the state paid for thousands of abortions that it believes did not meet that standard.
The lawsuit cites health department figures showing that Minnesota medical assistance programs paid for 47,095 abortions on indigent women from 1999 through 2011. The lawsuit claims the state's numbers indicate that _ at most _ only 10,044 of those abortions may have qualified under the 1995 court decision.
The lawsuit says that means the state paid for at least 37,051 abortions that weren't medically necessary, without the legal authority to do so.
The ADF obtained the key data under the state's Data Practices Act, which allows the public access to government data.
The lawsuit, filed in Ramsey County District Court in St. Paul, names Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson. It seeks injunctions to eliminate the use of public funds for non-therapeutic abortions, as well as a halt to public funding of all abortions until the department can show that public funds won't be misused. It also asks the court to direct the department to recover any unlawful payments made to abortion providers.
And it also asks the court to dissolve the injunction enforcing Supreme Court's 1995 ruling, known as Doe v. Gomez, which held that the state can't deny abortions to women on medical assistance ``when the procedure is necessary for therapeutic reasons.''
The Department of Human Services issued a brief statement saying it was reviewing the factual and legal claims in the complaint and that it would file a timely response with the court.
The lawsuit does not name Planned Parenthood, which is Minnesota's largest abortion provider and inevitably would be affected by any further restrictions on state funding for abortions. Spokeswoman Jennifer Aulwes said the organization does not comment on lawsuits when it's not a party to them.
Steven Aden, senior counsel with the Alliance Defending Freedom, said the numbers cited in the lawsuit represent the ``best assessment'' the group could make based on the statistics available. He said a fuller picture of the ``illegitimate public funding of elective abortions'' will emerge as the case proceeds.
Minnesota spends about $1.5 million annually on abortions for indigent women, the lawsuit says.
``It's a gross abuse of taxpayer dollars in the state of Minnesota and an unfortunate tragedy as well,'' Aden said.
The data came from forms that providers are required to submit to the state on every abortion they perform, and include the reasons for the abortions.
Abortion providers also must submit separate forms to receive payments for patients on public assistance. The allowed reasons on that form include unspecified ``other health reasons,'' which was the reason cited for 99.7 percent of the 19,295 publicly funded abortions from 2006 to 2010, according to the lawsuit. That suggests providers are abusing it for abortions that don't really qualify, the group claims.
The situation has been compounded by the Department of Human Services' ``lack of meaningful review of the medical necessity of the abortions for which it has been paying. As a result, a majority of abortions that have been paid for with public funds since at least 1999 have been performed for non-therapeutic reasons and in violation of the Gomez injunction,'' the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit also injects a racial element into the debate. The two named plaintiffs, Denise and Brian Walker, are an African-American couple, and it claims a disproportionate number of the disputed abortions were performed on African-American women. The lawsuit says blacks make up about 5 percent of the state's population, but that 40 percent of publicly funded abortions in Minnesota from 1999 to 2011 were performed on African-American women, or 19,152 total.
The lawsuit says they're ``especially aggrieved'' that the effect ``is to disproportionately inhibit the growth of the African American population in this state.''
Aden defended the racial angle, saying the Walkers ``and many other Minnesotans don't want to see their tax dollars going to elective abortions that disproportionately affect the African-American community.''