Judge declines to dismiss lawsuit against Minneapolis sidewalk counseling restrictions

The ordinance, enacted in November 2022, prohibits people from standing on or obstructing the driveway of an abortion clinic.

A sidewalk counselor greets a car outside the Uptown Planned Parenthood. (City of Minneapolis/YouTube)

A judge ruled last week that a pro-life organization’s case against the city of Minneapolis can proceed, rejecting the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit.

“The ruling was based on the city of Minneapolis seeking to have the entire lawsuit dismissed. Having a judge rule that we are going to go forward was very good news for us,” Brian Gibson, CEO of Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM), told Alpha News.

PLAM is one of the plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis over an ordinance that places restrictions on sidewalk counselors outside abortion clinics.

The ordinance, enacted in November 2022, prohibits people from standing on or obstructing the driveway of an abortion clinic, which is defined as “that portion of a right-of-way, including a sidewalk or bikeway, that provides vehicular access from a street to a reproductive healthcare facility.” The ordinance also prohibits “disrupting access to reproductive healthcare facilities.”

PLAM previously said that its sidewalk counselors stand on “parts of the public sidewalk outside the Uptown Planned Parenthood to offer life-saving literature to abortion clients driving in.”

To support the ordinance, Minneapolis was provided with security footage from Planned Parenthood showing sidewalk counselors stopping to talk with vehicles entering the facility. The ordinance was authored by Ward 7 Council Member Lisa Goodman, who formerly served as the executive director for Minnesota National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL).

“The Minneapolis ordinance, Chapter 405, enacted in November 2022, was a deliberate attempt to stifle Pro-Life Action Ministries’ sidewalk outreach outside of Planned Parenthood,” said Thomas More Society special counsel Erick Kaardal, who filed the federal lawsuit on PLAM’s behalf. The ordinance creates “an unconstitutional, content-based exclusion zone, created exclusively for the purpose of shutting down pro-life speech outside of abortion facilities,” he argued.

U.S. District Court Judge Eric C. Tostrud ruled that the lawsuit can proceed on the grounds of First Amendment violations and claims that it is overly broad.

“For reasons explained below, the [city’s motion to dismiss] will be denied with respect to the free-speech, free-exercise-of-religion, and overbreadth claims, and granted as to the freedom-of-association and vagueness claims,” Tostrud said. “Without a developed record, it is not possible to answer the ‘narrowly tailored’ question in this case at this motion-to-dismiss stage.”

As such, Gibson explained that the lawsuit will now go to discovery.

“We believe the city has seriously infringed upon our free speech. We’re looking forward to winning in federal court,” Gibson told Alpha News.

He also shared that the original judge presiding over the case, Jerry Blackwell, recused himself, and PLAM had to wait for the case to be reassigned to another judge. Gibson speculated that the reason is Blackwell is “a friend” of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. “Ellison’s son is on the city council,” Gibson said. “Just before the original hearing for dismissal, the judge recused himself.”

Blackwell worked on the prosecution of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin with the attorney general’s office prior to being appointed a federal judge.


Hayley Feland

Hayley Feland previously worked as a journalist with The Minnesota Sun, The Wisconsin Daily Star, and The College Fix. She is a Minnesota native with a passion for politics and journalism.