A timeline of Scott Jensen’s shifting abortion stance

The Republican candidate has gone from wanting to ban abortions to saying there’s nothing he could do to outlaw it as governor.

By: - September 12, 2022 6:00 am

Illustration by Chris Morris for Minnesota Reformer.

Republican candidate for governor Scott Jensen’s first TV ad shows him in a cozy living room, with a towel for spit-up draped over his left shoulder and a newborn baby in his hands, all the while talking about Minnesota abortion politics.

Jensen criticizes DFL Gov. Tim Walz in the ad for “weaponizing” abortion. He says abortion is not on the ballot this fall because of Minnesota’s 1995 Supreme Court Doe v. Gomez decision in which the court ruled Minnesotans have a state constitutional right to abortion access.

“In Minnesota, it’s a protected, constitutional right and no governor can change that. And I’m not running to do that,” Jensen says while gripping the baby.

Perhaps he’s not running to change abortion law, but a governor could certainly do it if they chose to. Here’s how: A governor can appoint judges to the state Supreme Court who could opt to overturn Doe v. Gomez if a challenge to the ruling were to ever fall before them — similar to how Roe v. Wade was overturned after President Donald Trump appointed three justices to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

In Iowa, Republican governors have appointed anti-abortion supreme court justices, who could overturn an existing Iowa Supreme Court precedent similar to Minnesota’s. Indeed, Minnesota’s southern neighbor appears poised to soon make abortion illegal.

Jensen’s latest abortion message — it’s a protected right, and I can’t do anything about it — is just the latest in a series of shifting positions he’s given since running for governor. His running mate, former Vikings player Matt Birk, is far less equivocating in support of a total abortion ban. He says he has spoken at more than 200 anti-abortion events. He is now standing by Jensen’s latest abortion remarks. Here is a timeline of some of Jensen’s and Birk’s more notable abortion remarks from this year:

March 18

In an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, Jensen said he would ban abortions.

“I would try to ban abortion …There is no reason for us to be having abortions going on. We have tremendous opportunities and availability of birth control. We don’t need to be snuffing out lives that, if left alone, will produce a viable newborn that may go on to be the next Albert Einstein.”

April 24

Jensen on his campaign Facebook page posted a live video ahead of Walz’s state of the state address. He quotes a Walz campaign flier that says, “Birk supports a ban on abortions in Minnesota.”

Jensen responded, “No kidding, Sherlock. You’re darn right we do, and we’re going to. And we’re going to get something done when we’re governor. We’re going to ban abortions. That’s really not news.”

May 4

Jensen said in a WCCO Radio interview with Chad Hartman that he would pass an abortion ban if a bill were to come to his desk at the state Capitol.

“As governor, I want Minnesota to be a pro-life state, so any legislation that would come to my desk, I would sign it to reduce or eliminate abortions… I think that definitely I would sign the bills to make Minnesota as pro-life as we can be,” Jensen said.

In the same interview, Jensen said he wouldn’t support exceptions to an abortion ban in situations of rape or incest.

Hartman: “Would you have any exceptions at all regarding abortion or, ideally if you could have the bill as you would like it, completely and totally eliminate abortion from the state?”

Jensen: “I think protection of the mother’s life is something that’s very, very important to me, because I think my view of life is that it begins at conception. So we have two lives that are, so to speak, in the balance. So if a mother’s life is in danger, I think that that would have to be a medical consideration and an area for potential exception.”

Hartman: “No exceptions for rape or incest?”

Jensen: “Unless a mother’s life is in danger.”

June 24

Matt Birk, speaking at a Georgia National Right for Life convention, compared abortion to slavery and said abortion rights advocates “want to go to the rape card.” He also expounded on how American culture promotes abortion.

“Our culture loudly, but also stealthily, promotes abortion,” Birk said. “They’re telling women they should look a certain way. They should have careers — all these things. It’s real now.”

As for rape, he said, “Rape is obviously a horrible thing but an abortion is not gonna, it’s not gonna heal the wounds of that. And two wrongs is not gonna, is not gonna make it right.”

He compared the battle to end abortion to abolitionism before the Civil War: “They said ‘Well abortion’s legal’ … well a lot of things have been legal before that we’ve changed, right … you know slavery used to be legal, right? Which is an interesting comparison to make because really the way that the other side treats an unborn child is based like that. That an unborn child is the property of the mother.”

July 29

Jensen’s campaign released a “plan to support and protect women.” It includes abortion ban exceptions for rape and incest to protect the mother’s mental health, Jensen said. 

“If I’ve been unclear previously, I want to be clear now. Rape and incest, along with endangering the mother’s mental or physical health, are acceptable exceptions,” Jensen said in a video released along with the plan.

Sept. 5

In a video about conversations with people at the Minnesota State Fair, Jensen discussed what he tells people when they ask him about abortion.

“Abortion’s not on the ballot in November. It’s already been decided, as Tim Walz and Keith Ellison have both indicated and as I have agreed,” Jensen said. “This is a constitutionally protected right for all women, and it changes — from my perspective — only through a constitutional amendment decided by all Minnesotans.”

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Michelle Griffith
Michelle Griffith

Michelle Griffith covers Minnesota politics and policy for the Reformer, with a focus on marginalized communities. Most recently she was a reporter with The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in North Dakota where she covered state and local government and Indigenous issues.