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Abortion access likely to be a defining issue of Minnesota elections

There have been growing signs nationally that the overturning of Roe vs. Wade could prove crucial in the mid-terms.

It's becoming increasingly apparent from primaries and special election results across the country in the past few months that abortion access will be among the key issues at the ballot box this November.

Minnesota is becoming a sanctuary for abortion in the Upper Midwest, surrounded by states that have either banned it or will likely ban it soon following the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the conservative majority Supreme Court.

Elsewhere, this has led to a backlash at the ballot boxes, with support for Democratic candidates who seek to protect abortion access surging over Republicans seeking to ban it.

The fall of Roe v. Wade brought a flurry of statements from Democrats in Minnesota who vowed to protect access to reproductive health and abortion facilities, with Gov. Tim Walz saying: "As long as I have the honor of holding this office, I will not sign laws that restrict access to abortions in our state."

While polling has been limited in Minnesota since Roe v. Wade was overturned, a KSTP poll this week has Walz 18 points up over Scott Jensen, his Republican opponent this November, with a 4.9% margin of error.

While it's possible this is an outlier, the poll showed Walz with a 28% lead with women, while he led Jensen by 77% to 13% on the issue of abortion.

Jensen, a qualified medical physician who is anti-abortion, is attempting to shift his race against Walz away from abortion access by suggesting it's not an issue at all this November.

In a newly released campaign ad (in which he's holding a baby), he argues that abortion, while "divisive," is a "protected constitutional right ... no governor can change that, and I'm not running to do that."

He instead urges voters to "focus on the issues that matter," such as crime and inflation.

In the ad, Jensen doesn't actually acknowledge whether he is for or against abortion, but his past comments show he is against it, and would likely take efforts to restrict it were he to become governor of Minnesota.

He told MPR in June

"I would try to ban abortion, I think that we're we're basically in a situation where we should be governed by … there is no reason for us to be having abortions going out. 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."

His running mate Matt Birk meanwhile called abortion "evil" in 2020 and said rape victims getting abortions "will only make things worse." On the day Roe v. Wade was overturned, Birk also gave a speech to an anti-abortion group in Georgia in which he linked abortions to a "culture" in which women – among other things – pursue careers.

Jensen has since modified his stance on abortion slightly, saying he and Birk back exemptions to abortions in the event of rape and incest, and notes that abortion is ultimately protected by the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Gomez, which he can't overrule.

Other Republican candidates running for statewide office include Jim Schultz, who is seeking to unseat Keith Ellison as Minnesota's Attorney General.

Schultz has previously said he supports a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, but that he would not use the office of the AG to pursue further restrictions on abortion.

However, it was reported by the Minnesota Reformer that prior to running for office, Schultz served on the board of the Human Life Alliance, a nonprofit that has been accused of spreading debunked claims about abortions, including that it increases the risk of breast cancer, drug abuse, and suicide.

It has also been noted this week by Politico that during the GOP primary, Schultz revealed he had helped set up a crisis pregnancy center in Mankato. Crisis pregnancy centers have been accused by pro-choice groups of manipulating pregnant individuals out of seeking care from certified reproductive health and abortion providers.

Last month, Ellison issued a consumer warning about crisis pregnancy centers in Minnesota, accusing them of preventing pregnant people from accessing care "by misleading, misinforming, or deceiving people."

At the congressional level, attempts to codify the right to abortion into federal law will depend upon the composition of the Senate and House. Currently, the filibuster prevents it passing the Senate without a 60-vote majority, and Republicans have a chance of taking back the House in November following favorable redistricting across the country, which have sparked criticisms of gerrymandering.

The issue of abortion access could also affect state legislature races in November, given that a party in control of both the Minnesota House and Senate would have the power to pass bills seeking to ban, restrict, or protect abortion access.

How Minnesota's abortion protections could be restricted, overturned

Minnesota abortions protections can be overturned much in the same way Roe vs. Wade was, and if elected governor, Jensen would have the power to appoint justices to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the event a vacancy arises. 

Jensen would also have the ability to sign off on bills restricting or attempting to ban abortion passed by the Minnesota Legislature – a possibility should Republicans win control of the Minnesota House and Senate in November.

If Republicans control the Minnesota House and Senate, lawmakers could pursue an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution – though this would require a statewide vote that would likely fail (given that polls find the majority of Americans agree with keeping Roe v. Wade).

Alternatively they could enact a “fetal personhood” law, which would generally establish that a fetus has full legal rights at any stage of gestation.

Republicans in the Legislature have also postulated enacting bills like those seen in Texas that would not ban abortion outright, but would heavily restrict it and could make those who get abortions or those who help them subject to civil penalties.

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