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What we know — and don’t know — about how Minnesota Republicans would approach abortion if they win the fall election

By on June 28, 2022 0

Legal access to abortion is unchanged in Minnesota after the cancellation of Roe vs. Wade last week by the United States Supreme Court because of the protections provided by law and the state constitution.

REUTERS/Nicole Néri

Governor Tim Walz

But following the landmark federal decision, local Democrats said Republicans would strike down Minnesota’s abortion laws if they win control of the state legislature and governor’s office in the election. fall.

“If Scott Jensen gets his way, Minnesota would become one of the most anti-choice states in the country,” Gov. Tim Walz told reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, referring to the top Republican candidate for the top job in the US. ‘State.

Any legislation that significantly restricts existing abortion access would likely fail if Walz wins reelection or Democrats control the state House or Senate next year. But if the Republicans won full control of the state government, the political situation would be different and the enemies of abortion would have more power.

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During the campaign trail, Jensen called for sweeping restrictions on abortion while acknowledging state abortion protections that would have to be rolled back to achieve his goal. GOP leaders in the House and Senate have been less clear about what their agenda might be and how exactly they might seek to restrict access to abortion.

How Jensen might respond to deer

Minnesota has certain legal restrictions on abortion, including a 24-hour waiting period. State law dictates that abortion is only permitted before a fetus is viable outside the womb, which is about 24 weeks gestation, in the second trimester. But there is a exemption for cases where a doctor declares that the abortion is necessary to “preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman”. In 2020, approximately 70% of abortions took place less than nine weeks pregnantwhile 99% would have occurred before the 24-week mark.

These state laws are backed by a constitutional right to abortion, however, enunciated by the state Supreme Court in a 1995 case. Doe vs. Gomezthe state court also went further than the U.S. Supreme Court under deerruling that low-income women receiving medical assistance could qualify for abortion coverage.

In his campaign for governor, Jensen has offered a variety of positions on his approach to abortion access.

In March, before deer was knocked down, Jensen says MPR News he would “try to outlaw abortion” if elected governor. And in a WCCO radio interview in May, Jensen, a practicing family physician, said he would not support rape and incest exemptions, although he could allow abortion to “protect the life of a child.” ‘a mother”.

“If a mother’s life is in danger, I think that should be a medical consideration and a potential area of ​​exception,” Jensen told WCCO.

Yet after deer was overturned last week, Jensen issued a written statement acknowledging the right to abortion defined by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The statement did not call for a challenge to that decision in an effort to ban most abortions, which would either force the court to overturn its earlier ruling — unlikely with the bench’s current makeup — or pass a constitutional amendment.

A simple majority of state legislators can ask voters to reject or ratify an amendment to the state constitution. These voting questions need a majority of all voters to pass.

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In the new statement, Jensen also did not specify what, if any, abortion limits he could seek as governor. Rather, he said he would “seek loving and caring alternatives such as universal adoption, family planning measures to prevent pregnancies, and policies such as counseling and alternative referrals, medical assistance, and other measures.” who value people – both born and unborn”.

And in a video posted on Tuesday, Jensen said “rape and incest as considerations would fall into the realm of ‘is the mother’s life in danger’.”

Jensen said a mother’s life can be put in danger “pretty easily without us seeing it”, like having suicidal thoughts.

“Rather than having a pregnant mother with an unexpected and unplanned pregnancy who has to demonstrate or prove that there is rape or incest, I think that person should be in contact with their doctor and they decide if yes or no it is, if you will, life-threatening for mom,” Jensen said.

Legislative Republicans

Republican leaders in the Legislature haven’t offered much of a roadmap for how they would approach abortion if in office. The GOP currently controls the state Senate while the DFL holds a majority in the Minnesota House. But that could change in the midterm elections in the fall, which often go badly for the president’s party.

House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt

House GOP Leader Kurt Daudt

A spokesman for House Republicans declined to comment on legislation they may seek next year if they win a majority. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt praised the US Supreme Court’s decision in a written statement after the ruling was overturned deer, but said there would be no “immediate impact” in Minnesota. State lawmakers who oppose abortion have pushed to implement more restrictions on abortion over the years in Minnesota or have proposed other measures intended to persuade women to give birth.

Last year, House Republicans introduced bills to stop state health programs from paying for abortion. They have also sought to impose new licensing requirements on abortion clinics and ban abortions after what they describe as a “fetal heartbeat” is detected in a fetus or embryo.

Proponents of heartbeat laws generally say that a “fetal heartbeat” is detected around six weeks, although medical experts say the term can be misleading and that while there may be heart activity, the heart is not fully developed until the end of pregnancy. An audible sound around six weeks is actually created by ultrasound machines.

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Rep. Tim Miller, an incumbent lawmaker from Prinsburg who is part of the dissident New House Republican Caucus, earlier this year introduced a “fetal heartbeat” bill modeled after a law passed in Texas. Under the plan, anyone could bring a civil lawsuit against someone who performs what would be an illegal abortion under the proposal, or encourages such an abortion.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have also failed to set an exact agenda for abortion restrictions.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, a Republican from Winona, said in a statement after the ruling was overturned deer that her caucus is “committed to working together to find consensus on protecting babies and supporting mothers and families who choose life.” Miller did not detail what the GOP hopes the consensus will look like, though that may depend on the opinions of individual lawmakers elected this fall.

It also might not be politically advantageous for Republican leaders to elaborate on how they might approach abortion before the fall election, given the popularity of abortion rights in much of the country. State.

State Senator Michelle Benson

State Senator Michelle Benson

Senator Michelle Benson, a Republican from Ham Lake who has long championed abortion restrictions, introduced a bill this year that would says those who administer mifepristone, an abortion pill, must be doctors. The measure is a top priority of anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, which has opposed such pills being mailed to women.

Yet when the draft opinion in the federal case was leaked in early May, Benson also said the legislature should find consensus on all abortion laws because they need House approval, the Senate and the Governor’s Office. Benson said the Doe The ruling provides an “additional step” to major abortion restrictions that would require judges or more conservative voters to approve a constitutional amendment.

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“If we want to move to a more pro-life Minnesota, there will have to be changes in our justice system,” Benson said.

State Senator Paul Utke

State Senator Paul Utke

Sen. Paul Utke, a Republican from Park Rapids who chairs the Senate Finance and Health and Human Services Policy Committee, said Tuesday that people would look for ways to challenge existing abortion rules in court. , but had not heard of an effort to push for a constitutional amendment.

“It’s nothing that can happen quickly,” Utke said of the legal challenges.

Walz warns of quick action

Still, Walz argues that a change in the justice system could, in fact, happen quite quickly. At his press conference, the governor said three of Minnesota’s seven Supreme Court justices will soon reach the age limit of 70 requiring retirement, meaning the court’s balance could shift under the second Walz’s tenure – or Jensen’s first.

But Walz spokeswoman Claire Lancaster later said only two justices were approaching that mandatory retirement, and only one would reach the age limit during the governor’s next four-year term. Justice Barry Anderson will reach mandatory retirement age in October 2024 and Natalie Hudson in 2027. Judges can still voluntarily retire before reaching age 70.

The governor nonetheless argued that it would be naive to believe Republicans won’t find a way to act quickly on abortion, or evade or challenge state law or constitutional access protections. to abortion.

“Abortion is legal in Minnesota, but that could change in November,” he said.