Teresa Collet: Anti-Choice Lawyer-Turned-Congressional Candidate

Robin Marty

The Minnesota GOP is running an anti-abortion activist to try to win a solidly Democratic seat in St. Paul.

There are a few things you can depend on in the state of Minnesota.  You’re always going to see at least one episode of snow in April. There will always be cheese curds at the State Fair.  And St. Paul, Minnesota’s 4th District, will most likely send a Democrat to Congress.  Congresswoman Betty McCollum of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party [or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the Democratic Party] is only the latest in a long string of Democrats holding the district seat, a string that stretches all the way back to 1940s and Edward Devitt.

The citizens of this district are very, very progressive, and they have a tendency to want the same from their candidates.  When DFL Mayor Randy Kelly endorsed Republican President George Bush for re-election in 2004, he found himself quickly embroiled in a recall push from his constituents, who then voted him out of office in 2005.  For a Republican to win in the 4th district it would take a very special kind of candidate: one who would be able to straddle a line that could possibly win over independents, one who would need to stay open to the progressive ideals that the citizens of the district value, and one that would have to know how to build coalitions between two opposing sides and find common ground on the means of achieving shared goals.

Instead, the Republican party nominated anti-gay, anti-choice activist and lawyer Teresa Collett.

Collett, a lawyer with degrees from the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma College of Law, and a current law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, has a storied career of legal representation, both as a board member of Alliance for Marriage, a group opposing gay marriage, and as a legal expert on anti-choice legislation (or, as she allegedly refers to it, a “hired gun“).  She has testified in Congressional hearings on numerous occasions as an expert in marriage and family.  And now she claims to be putting that same zeal into challenging Representative Betty McCollum in the 4th district.

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But eventually it becomes a question of how real a campaign Collett is actually running against McCollum.  As the election approaches, most candidates are busy fundraising, debating, showing up at events to win over supporters, and knocking on doors. Collett, on the other hand, is spending a chunk of her time providing legal representation for high profile anti-choice lawsuits. 

The Oklahoma mandatory vaginal ultrasound bill, which was passed in May and blocked just a few days later, was put on hold on due to a court challenge by the Center for Reproductive Rights.  The state attorney general agreed to the hold, saying it would give the state time to procure a well-versed anti-abortion expert lawyer.  That lawyer, of course, was Collett.  She will be representing the state at the hearing in July to extend the restraining order, likely until another hearing would be held sometime in the fall, a time when most Congressional candidates would be expecting to put the final push on their campaigns. 

Of course, it makes sense that Collett would be the attorney that the state of Oklahoma would want representing it.  She has been intimately involved in the ultrasound measure in 2009, when she both advocated for the measure and also formed the legal action plan around its initial lawsuit as the Special Assistant Attorney General of Oklahoma, before moving to Minnesota. Interestingly enough, Collett makes no mention of either that position nor her court experience in her campaign website’s “Real Experience” page.

Her campaign site downplays her involvement in the more zealous side of the anti-choice movement, such as forced ultrasounds or trying to chip away at Roe v. Wade protections.  In the section entitled “Life Issues,” Collett says:

Whether we are pro-life or pro-choice, we can all agree that a woman should never be pressured to have an abortion by the child’s father, her family, her friends, her doctor, or her employer. She should never feel that abortion is her only choice because the father refuses to help support the child he helped to create. And we can all agree that women who continue their pregnancies should have the support of the child’s father, access to prenatal care and better resources to answer her questions about pregnancy and child care.

In these shared ideals we can find a shared purpose: to restore the dignity of motherhood, to protect women from coercion and abuse, and to strengthen the support systems necessary to bring a child into this world.

Missing from her “Experience” page is any mention of some of her more famous trials and testimonies such as the Oklahoma ultrasound law or the recent Nebraska “Fetal Pain” bill.  In fact, the page makes it appear as if she only testifies or represents in cases involving parental consent laws, so called “Partial Birth” bans, taxpayer-funded abortions, or provider negligence, rather than her full experiences trying to create a variety of roadblocks to abortion access and eventually eliminate the procedure all together.

Examination of her bio and writings as a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School provides a fuller picture of the candidate herself, and her extremist views on abortion.  From published works ranging from “‘The King’s Good Servant, But God’s First,’ the Role of Religion in Judicial Decisionmaking,” to “Dissenting Opinion in What Roe Should Have Said” and “The Supreme Court’s Confused (and Confusing) Understanding of the Creation and Taking of Human Life,” her list of representative scholarship makes it clear that she is focused on more than just parental involvement and ensuring women aren’t hurt by doctors.

Her own writing for the law school’s site makes it clear just how out of line with the general population she is on reproductive choice, especially in the city of St. Paul.  In 2009, Collett wrote:

…[I]t is not properly within our power to gainsay God’s decision. 

Yet many in our society seek to do exactly that.  Abortion is justified on the basis that the child will be born handicapped, or was conceived through an act of violence, or will be poor and must struggle for survival from the very beginning.  Each of these reasons suggests that we are wiser than God, and that His decision to create this unique human being was wrong.  We presume that we can know the future of the child, with a certainty superior to that of God’s. Thus the intentional taking of a human life becomes an act of mercy rather than injustice.  Yet it is an odd mercy that kills the subject of its concern, and a strange faith that elevates the time-bound and particular judgments of man over the deliberate creative act of God. 

The work of the Prolife Center at St. Thomas is grounded in this simple truth – God does not make mistakes in his creation of any person.

In other writings, Collett expounds on how the Supreme Court under John Roberts will leave behind its previous “hubris” regarding abortion and instead enter a period of “judicial restraint” that will provide “greater freedom for the people and their elected representatives to decide the proper limits of the state’s interest in protecting women and the unborn life they carry within them.”

She calls Roe vs. Wade “the Supreme Court decision that transformed the crime of abortion into a constitutional right.”  She claims that abortion causes “a whole group of human beings, the unborn, be classified as “’non-persons,’” and compares it to slavery and the Dred Scott case.  And, in 2008, she stated that for a Catholic to vote for Obama would be “formal cooperation in grave evil,” given his record on reproductive health issues, something that would no doubt shock the district, 66 percent of whom voted for Obama in the last election.  St. Paul has an overwhelmingly Catholic religious demographic due to its original French Canadian and Irish immigration population.

As a high-profile candidate with strong ties to groups like National Right to Life, Collett could possibly be expected to bring in a great deal of money from national supporters, much like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann tends to draw in the 6th District. However, the Cook Political Index has the race as solidly Democrat, with a current 13-point margin, and McCollum has beaten every competitor by at least 25 percent since she was first elected to congress.  

So why has the Republican pary leadership chosen her?  Are they relying that heavily on a traditional midterm enthusiasm for the minority party, combined with anti-incumbent fervor to win? Do they believe the Republican women-candidate surge the media keeps talking about will land her a seat? Or are they simply providing a platform for pushing more anti-choice, anti-GLBT rhetoric in the hopes of drawing out more votes in the district for a very conservative gubernatorial candidate?

We’ll have to wait until November to find out.

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