Fact Check: Are Minnesota governors powerless to change abortion access?

Republican Scott Jensen has launched his first television ad in the Minnesota governor's race as he tries to move past the abortion topic that has plagued him this summer.

The ad opens with Jensen holding his newest grandson, who was born in August. Jensen, a family physician from Chaska, tells viewers that he's delivered 500 babies in his career. On-screen text shows that the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians named him the 2016 family physician of the year.

Ever since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and left abortion access up to states, DFL Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic groups have criticized Jensen for his opposition to abortion.

"Abortion is divisive, and Tim Walz is weaponizing the issue," Jensen says in the ad. "In Minnesota, it's a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that. And I'm not running to do that."

This is not the whole story.

While Jensen is right that Minnesota governors can't unilaterally change the state constitution, they're not powerless on the topic of abortion. And Jensen has previously said on multiple occasions that he would try to restrict abortion access if elected.

The state constitution

Minnesota's constitution protects a woman's right to an abortion under a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling in Doe v. Gomez. There are two routes to overturn that ruling, and both are tall tasks.

One option is by constitutional amendment, which both houses of the state Legislature and voters would need to approve. Governors have no official power in the ballot measure process.

Second, the state Supreme Court could make a different ruling in a new abortion case. In Minnesota, governors appoint justices who later face voters for full six-year terms.

Five of the seven current justices were appointed by Democratic governors. Flipping the court would likely take several years because only one Republican-appointed justice -- G. Barry Anderson -- will hit the mandatory retirement age of 70 in the next governor's term.

In late June, Walz tried to add urgency to the issue by saying three justices were due to hit the mandatory retirement age in the next term. His campaign later told The Associated Press that Walz had misspoken, and that the governor only thought it was "probable" that three justices would retire.

Jensen's past comments

In his ad, Jensen adopts a softer tone than he used in March, when he was running for the Republican endorsement. During an interview with Minnesota Public Radio, the interviewer asked Jensen whether he would try to restrict abortion or try to ban it outright.

"I would try to ban abortion," Jensen said in the interview. Since then, he has shifted his position and raised exceptions for rape, incest, and to protect the mother's health.

Jensen has endorsed efforts from an anti-abortion rights group to reduce abortions in Minnesota. Earlier this year, he backed the Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life's so-called "incremental approach" of passing measures that restrict abortion.

Governors can sign into law abortion restrictions that the Legislature passes.

In 2003, then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty signed a 24-hour waiting period that Republican lawmakers had approved. The law stood for 19 years before a Ramsey County judge ruled it unconstitutional this summer.

FOX 9 Fact Check: Here's our rating system

  • True: accurate information that requires little or no additional context
  • Needs clarification: mostly accurate information that leaves out context that would be helpful to voters
  • Not the whole story: the information presented leaves out a significant amount of context that could lead voters to a different conclusion
  • Misleading: partial information presented in a way that misleads voters
  • False: inaccurate information, or information presented out of context