MINNEAPOLIS — Dr. Scott Jensen asserts the outcome of the Minnesota governor's race shouldn't be determined by the abortion debate in a state where women still have the legal right to choose that option.
That's why the Chaska Republican devoted his first major campaign ad buy to reminding voters that governors in Minnesota can't single-handedly ban abortion.
"Abortion is divisive and Tim Walz is weaponizing the issue," Jensen, a family physician, tells viewers as he holds his infant granddaughter.
"In Minnesota, it’s a protected constitutional right and no governor can change that."
He goes on to say that his campaign is about other issues people are worried about, including crime, schools and parental control. It's those issues that motivated him to run for governor, he insists, not his opposition to abortion.
It's true that access to abortion in this state is guaranteed by the Minnesota Supreme Court's 1995 decision in Doe v. Gomez. It's also true that a Minnesota governor, acting alone, can't impose a ban like those that now exist in other states since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade precedent.
If a future legislature decides to put an abortion ban on the ballot, the governor would be powerless to stop it. Proposed constitutional amendments go straight to voters, bypassing the governor's desk.
A governor could, over time, replace retiring state supreme court justices who would disagree with Doe v. Gomez and overturn it. Governors appoint supreme court justices but can't remove them from the bench. Justices must stand for re-election, but no incumbents have been unseated in recent history.
That reality hasn't done much to change the dynamics of the abortion debate in Minnesota heading into November's election. The Alliance for a Better Minnesota has filled the airwaves with ads branding Jensen as too extreme on the issue of abortion.
This is based on two radio interviews granted by Jensen before he won the Republican endorsement. In March, when asked by Minnesota Public Radio's Michael Mulcahy if he'd try to ban abortion as governor, Jensen said he would.
In May, when asked if he'd support an exception for pregnancies caused by rape or incest, Jensen answered, "Not unless the mother's life is in danger."
In the months since the endorsing convention, Jensen has explained that saving the life of a mother could include rape and incest cases if the pregnant woman is suffering mentally to the point of being at risk of suicide.
"We have to have a recognition that there’s two lives involved. It’s the mom and the unborn child, and I think the priority always has to be the mom," Jensen told KARE.
In a post-ban landscape, the abortion clinics would be gone, but he said hospitals could still end pregnancies to save women. He told KARE 11 it would be a joint decision by the expectant mother and her physician.
Wednesday, the same day the Jensen ad came out, a national organization known as The Committee to Protect Health Care held a press conference featuring two retired Minnesota physicians who called on Jensen to clarify his stance on abortion.
"Doctors need to know whether they’ll be able to provide medically necessary care in this state for pregnant women or whether providing that care would put them or their colleagues in jail," Dr. Mary Kemen told reporters.
Dr. Dawn Ellison said she hadn't seen the Jensen campaign ad but said the thrust of the ad as described by others, doesn't do anything to put her mind at ease.
"That's a nice statement to make, but if there’s not a legal precedent guaranteeing that right to an abortion based upon the woman’s request for a necessity to have one, then that’s just a statement."
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