AG candidate Ellison draws line on abortion

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a candidate for Minnesota attorney general, said he wouldn't defend any new law that limits access to abortion. Brian Bakst | MPR News

A Democratic contender for Minnesota attorney general said Monday he won't defend new abortion restrictions in court if state lawmakers approve them.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, one of five DFLers vying for the party nomination for the open seat, made the comment at a news conference in which he vowed to fight efforts to limit health care coverage, including reductions in Medicaid offerings and access to legal abortion. Also Monday, Ellison received the endorsement of NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota.

"The Minnesota attorney general has his or her own election certificate elected directly by the people. And the job is to uphold the constitution," Ellison said. "I find that there is a right to reproductive health in the Minnesota constitution and the federal constitution so if the state Legislature tries to make me to defend an unconstitutional law, I wouldn't be able to do that."

Earlier this year in Iowa, Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller refused to defend a law that would bar abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected. A judge in that state issued a temporary injunction to stop the law -- one of the most restrictive passed anywhere in the country -- from taking effect this month.

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Lawmakers in Minnesota have attempted in recent years to curtail abortion through new restrictions, although DFL Gov. Mark Dayton has vetoed several bills that reached his desk during his two terms.

Justice Anthony Kennedy's upcoming retirement from the U.S. Supreme Court has fueled predictions that state-based efforts to limit or outlaw abortion will hold up in the years ahead. Kennedy has been a key vote on the court to keep abortion legal, but President Donald Trump's next pick could swing things in a new direction.

"We have to face the very real possibility that Roe v. Wade will be overturned and that individual states will be left to regulate abortion care," said Ali Ecklund, vice chair of the Minnesota NARAL's board of directors. "The threat in Minnesota is real."

Former state Rep. Doug Wardlow, the endorsed Republican in the attorney general race, criticized Ellison's stance as putting his own political agenda above the law.

“Keith Ellison seems to believe that he can pick and choose which laws he would enforce. The attorney general is supposed to uphold the rule of law, and Ellison’s willingness to ignore that obligation is deeply troubling," Wardlow said in a statement.

Ellison's challengers in the Aug. 14 DFL primary are: lawyer Matt Pelikan, who has the DFL endorsement; state Rep. Debra Hilstrom; former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and former Ramsey County Attorney Tom Foley.