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Abortion rape exception? Walz-Flanagan campaign goes after Jensen-Birk for not supporting one

·4 min read
Pioneer Press/TNS

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on Tuesday spearheaded criticism of Republican governor candidate Scott Jensen and his running mate Matt Birk for stating that they oppose abortion access for rape survivors.

Flanked by two women who were sexually assaulted by strangers — one was impregnated and chose an abortion — Flanagan held a news conference aimed at using Jensen’s and Birk’s words against them on the issue, which Minnesota Democrats believe could give them an advantage in this November’s election following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“I may be a broken record on this for the next several months, but it is what is required of me as a mother and as someone who is responsible for protecting the health and safety of Minnesotans,” Flanagan, a Democrat, said when asked how potent an issue she believes abortion positions will be in the state.

Abortion remains legal in Minnesota as a fundamental right guaranteed by the state’s constitution under a 1995 state Supreme Court opinion known as Doe v. Gomez. A Ramsey County judge recently cited the case in striking down a number of abortion restrictions in the state, and Gov. Tim Walz recently said he doesn’t think the state should appeal the ruling — although that decision is ultimately up to Attorney General Keith Ellison.

In a response to Tuesday’s event, the Jensen-Birk campaign released a statement, titled “Walz’s desperate attacks meant to distract from his failures on inflation and crime,” that cited abortion’s current legality here and downplayed the issue’s relevance.

“It is very evident that the Walz-Flanagan ticket has turned into a single-issue campaign. They support ending longstanding, bipartisan protections for women receiving abortions in Minnesota, such as a doctor performing the procedure or parental notification that their child had surgery,” the statement read, in part. It added later: “Plain and simple, abortion won’t be on the ballot in November, but the Walz/Flanagan/Biden failed agenda will be.”


In multiple interviews this spring, Jensen, a former state senator and practicing family physician, said he would support a law that bans abortion in Minnesota in all cases except where it protects the life of the mother. In March, when he was seeking the GOP nomination, he told Minnesota Public Radio that, if elected governor, “I would try to ban abortions … there is no reason for us to be having abortions.”

When asked on WCCO radio, “No exceptions for rape or incest?” Jensen responded, “Unless a mother’s life is in danger.”

More recently, however, he appears to have tried to redefine that idea, perhaps including rape under the category of saving the life of the pregnant person, implying that a person’s mental health might come into play. In late June, he said this to KARE-TV:

“That’s a big exception because it’s really up to the patient and the physician to determine what kind of circumstances would indeed put someone’s life at risk. … When we talk about incest or rape, to me those are in that realm of, if you will, mother’s life being in danger.”

It’s unclear how that would be codified in law. Jensen has aligned himself with the anti-abortion movement, which has not supported a carve out for the mental health of the pregnant person, as defined by that person

Flanagan said she doesn’t buy any nuance Jensen might be attempting to put into his position.

“His rhetoric may have changed,” she said. “His position has not.”


The hook for Tuesday’s criticism by Flanagan was comments made by Birk, a former NFL player, to the National Right to Life Conference in Georgia on June 24 — the day Roe was overturned. The comments, which had not been reported previously, were recorded in a video of a panel of speakers. The Walz-Flanagan campaign release an edited video showing snippets that Flanagan called “disturbing.”

At one point, Birk said: “Rape is obviously a horrible thing. But an abortion is not gonna heal the wounds of that, and two wrong, it’s not gonna make a right.”

Birk was relating the story of a grateful boy he met who was conceived in a foreign country as the result of a rape and was adopted by a Minnesota family.

One of the survivors at Tuesday’s news conference was Becca Johnson, who was raped and impregnated 15 years ago. She chose an abortion to end the pregnancy and said she kept her story a secret until Roe was overturned.

Here’s what Johnson said in response to Birk’s comment: “He’s trying to draw similarities between raping someone and then choosing not to carry your rapist’s child. I just can’t even believe I have to address this. It’s just wrong. … It’s sexist, it’s misogynistic, it’s harmful.”

Flanagan said voters will have a “stark choice” on the issue in November.

“Scott Jensen has repeatedly shown us who he is on the issue of abortion, and by selecting Matt Birk as his running mate, certainly has shown us the disrespect of women and not believing that we can make our own choices about how we exist and live our lives.”

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