The recent U.S. Supreme Court’s abortion ruling, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, has shaken the country – and Eden Prairie – like no other in recent history. What was the ruling about? And how does it affect Eden Prairie residents?
The ruling essentially hands the power to state legislators to decide the issue for Minnesotans, so where do Eden Prairie’s representatives stand on this issue as an important election day approaches?
How far apart?
Current state Legislators and their opponents clearly disagree about the Supreme Court decision about abortion rights, but how far apart are they?
To be sure, Democratic legislators are “disappointed” as State Senator Steve Cwodzinski told Eden Prairie Local News (EPLN), and even “devastated and angry,” as expressed by incumbent District 49B House Representative Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn.
But, in response to an EPLN request for comment, Republican opponents come up short of an all-or-nothing abortion stance.
Thomas Knecht, Kotyza-Witthuhn’s opponent in November, said, in part, “… policy should reflect the position of the vast majority of Minnesota residents: keep abortion safe, legal, and rare.”
Or this from Marla Helseth, Cwodzinski’s opponent for the Senate seat: “… I am pro-life, but being pro-life isn’t just about pregnancy, it’s about valuing life in every environment, in all communities and every type of family.”
Where they will all land if the issue is put to a vote in the Minnesota Legislature, possibly to restrict abortions in the state – something Gov. Tim Walz says he won’t allow to happen – is yet to be seen.
What does the Supreme Court decision mean?
Most people in the United States are aware that on June 24 the Supreme Court issued its opinion on what most of us understand to be the “the Dobbs abortion case,” which overrules a Supreme Court decision made almost 50 years ago that made abortion legal nationwide within certain legal parameters.
Although the Dobbs case came to the Supreme Court with a fairly narrow issue involving a Mississippi statute that banned abortions after 15 weeks, the Court took the dramatic action of completely overturning its own existing precedent, Roe v. Wade, 410 U. S. 113, and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833.
The court explicitly stated in its decision that there is no constitutional right to an abortion and the states now have an unrestricted right to regulate it.
“The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion. Roe and Casey abrogated that authority,” said the court’s ruling in Dobbs. “We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives.”
Five of the nine justices joined in the majority opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts concurred in the result but took issue with the way they got there. Justices Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan filed a strong dissent.
In his concurring opinion, Roberts was critical of Roe and Casey, but also clearly stated that he thought the court went too far.
“Here, there is a clear path to deciding this case correctly without overruling Roe all the way down to the studs: recognize that the viability line must be discarded, as the majority rightly does, and leave for another day whether to reject any right to an abortion at all,” Roberts wrote.
Asking the question
EPLN contacted state legislators that currently represent all or parts of Eden Prairie: State Senator Steve Cwodzinski, District 49; State Representative Laurie Pryor, District 49A; and State Representative Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, District 49B.
Since all three of those incumbents are up for re-election this year, EPLN also contacted their opponents Marla Helseth, Ryan Chase, and Thomas Knecht. The three incumbents are Democrats and their opponents are Republicans.
We asked all of them this question: What is your opinion on the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case? Here are their responses.
Steve Cwodzinski, State Senator, District 49:
“I am very disappointed with the Supreme Court ruling on Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Every person in Minnesota and the United States of America deserve the right to make their own health decisions. These rulings endanger all women and may force the return of the back alleys of my youth.
One of my top priorities next session will be to protect Minnesotan’s reproductive rights. Passage of the Protect Reproductive Options act, to codify the right to an abortion in state law, is absolutely essential. You can count on my opposition to any abortion restrictions. It is important to keep exercising your civic duty and speak to your representatives about the protection of reproductive rights. Most importantly, go vote!”
Marla Helseth (Cwodzinski’s Republican opponent):
“The Supreme Court’s decision in the Dobbs case overturned Roe v. Wade, and returned the authority to regulate abortion back to all 50 states. Minnesota’s position is unique in that it includes a state supreme court ruling, Doe v. Gomez, which means even with Roe overruled, abortion is still protected under Minnesota case law.
I am pro-life, but being pro-life isn’t just about pregnancy, it’s about valuing life in every environment, in all communities and every type of family. As a state senator, I intend to focus on supporting policies that generate consensus agreement on how to continue to value life, and improve it for everyone across our state.”
Laurie Pryor, House Representative, District 49A:
“This shocking decision by the Supreme Court does not change Minnesota’s constitutional protections for women and the very personal health decisions they make with their doctors. Extreme laws curtailing reproductive rights threaten the overall quality of health care we deeply value in Minnesota.
Some politicians will increase their efforts to interfere with Minnesota laws in place, but I will continue working with my House DFL colleagues and Gov. Walz to provide safe health care options for all women.”
Ryan Chase (Pryor’s Republican opponent):
“In the case of Dobbs v. Jackson, I applaud the judgement of the Supreme Court on this difficult topic. I respect their decision and agree that this topic is a state issue and look forward to discussing it and other pressing issues with residents and political leaders to determine the best outcome for our state.”
Carlie Kotyza-Witthuhn, House Representative District 49B:
“With this decision, the USA, long hailed as a worldwide beacon of freedom, can no longer be viewed as such. When bodily autonomy is taken away from half the population, we become second-class citizens. Many folks think abortion access in MN is a non-issue, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Make no mistake – reproductive rights are on the ballot in November. I’m devastated, I’m angry, I’m committed to protecting reproductive rights in Minnesota.”
Thomas Knecht (Kotyza-Witthuhn’s Republican opponent):
“Like any policy consideration, Minnesota legislators should seek to achieve bipartisan consensus that reflects the will of the people. This is especially important for a highly polarizing and contentious issue like abortion.
Some elements of the pro-choice movement are pushing for unlimited access to abortion regardless of the circumstances and stage of pregnancy. Meanwhile, some elements of the pro-life movement want to ban all abortions.
The public is somewhere in the middle. On this highly contentious and divisive issue, policy should reflect the position of the vast majority of Minnesota residents: keep abortion safe, legal, and rare.
I will work to support all women, families, and children – including unborn children. I will also work to ensure access and availability of contraception for those who need or want it to prevent unplanned or unwanted pregnancies.
Finally, Minnesotans and Americans are living in highly polarized times. We should resist further attempts to divide us and instead focus on seeking common ground with our fellow citizens and understanding those we disagree with.”
Overturning cases not unusual
It is important to note that it is not unusual for the Supreme Court to overturn its own previous rulings; it has happened literally hundreds of times.
What is unusual about the Dobbs case is the passion it has inflamed and the potential the case has to directly affect the lives of so many people in the U.S.
If you define the universe of people potentially affected by this ruling to include not only all women in the country of childbearing age, and all of those in a close relationship with those women, you are likely talking about most of the citizens of Eden Prairie and the U.S.
It’s probably safe to predict that this will be an important and contentious issue in this year’s elections, and we haven’t heard the last of it.
Editor’s note: Frank Farrell is a long-time Eden Prairie resident and an attorney with 43 years’ experience.