Abortion battle heats up in Minnesota governor’s race

It’s becoming increasingly clear the campaign of Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan will use the abortion issue relentlessly to make sure voters know they have a clear choice to make in November.

“It’s pretty clear that there is a choice that Minnesotans have in front of them and it’s an important one and we’re going to keep talking about it,” Flanagan told reporters at a State Capitol news conference called by the Walz-Flanagan campaign.

The centerpiece of the news conference was a speech by Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Birk at a National Right to Life conference in Georgia from nearly a month ago. The Walz-Flanagan campaign circulated video of the speech to reporters before the news conference. In his remarks, Birk defends his opposition to abortion after cases of rape or incest, compares abortion to slavery and accuses Democrats of playing the “rape card” in their campaigns.

“Again, rape is obviously a horrible thing,” Birk says in the June 24 speech. “But an abortion is not going to heal the wounds of that. Two wrongs is not gonna … make it right.”

“These remarks are disrespectful toward survivors,” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said at the news conference. “Comparing a survivor who chooses to end her pregnancy from sexual assault to the rapist, the criminal who assaulted her, is wrong and it is cruel.”

Two rape survivors also attended the news conference on behalf of the Walz-Flanagan campaign, including Becca Johnson who says she was raped in 2008.

“The ‘rape card,’” Johnson said. “As if being raped gives people some kind of leverage. As if being raped is a trivial and convenient argument giving women autonomy over their bodies.”

“Being raped and impregnated destroyed my sense of security and my ability to stick up for myself,” Johnson went on to say. “The only control I had over that situation was choosing abortion.”

Birk also faced criticism for comparing abortion to slavery. “I know I’m talking to a bunch of pro-life warriors here,” he said to the conference attendees. “You know slavery used to be legal, which is an interesting comparison to make. It’s really the way the other side treats an unborn child. It’s basically like that unborn child is the property of the mother.”

The Jensen-Birk campaign didn’t directly address any of the remarks made by Birk, but in a statement responding to the criticism, the Jensen campaign said, “It is very evident that the Walz-Flanagan ticket has turned into a single-issue campaign.” They go on to say, “Plain and simple, abortion won’t be on the ballot in November, but the Walz/Flanagan/Biden agenda will be.”

The Jensen campaign statement talks about how they’ve presented plans to address inflation, crime and energy while the Walz campaign keeps focusing on abortion.

Political scientist Larry Jacobs of the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota said he expects the Walz-Flanagan campaign to keep hammering the abortion issue.

“Scott Jensen and Matt Birk are playing into the hands of Democrats,” Jacobs said, adding every time they talk about their relatively extreme position on abortion, “It puts the issue back on the agenda and allows Democrats to avoid talking about inflation and crime.”

“They need to focus like a laser beam on the economic issues and the crime issues that concern Minnesota,” Jacobs says. “Whenever they talk about abortion it’s a big win for the Walz campaign.”