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Minnesota Republican gubernatorial candidate Dr. Scott JensenYouTube/Screenshot

(LifeSiteNews) – Family physician and former state legislator Dr. Scott Jensen became the latest Republican candidate Tuesday to backtrack on a strong pro-life stance amid speculation that the June overturn of Roe v. Wade makes abortion a more difficult issue ahead of the November’s midterm elections.

Jensen, who is running for governor, has called himself a “pro-life champion” and suggested in May that abortion should be prohibited “unless the mother’s life is in danger,” though he later said “rape and incest” would also qualify under that exception, because “the mother’s life could be in danger quite readily without us seeing it, particularly in regards to suicidal ideation and how profound an impact might be occurring.”

On September 6, he released a new ad addressing the issue, framing himself as dismissive of the pro-life cause while holding and smiling down at a baby.

“I’ve delivered 500 babies in my career,” he says. “Abortion is divisive, and [incumbent Gov.] Tim Walz is weaponizing the issue. In Minnesota, it’s a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that, and I’m not running to do that. I’m running because we need safe streets, excellent schools, parental rights, and more money in the family budget. That’s what I’ll fight for. Let’s focus on the issues that matter.”

Jensen has suffered a downswing in the polls in recent weeks and currently trails Walz by 18 percentage points, according to KSTP/SurveyUSA. Some have attributed his predicament to being framed as an anti-abortion extremist (in keeping with a narrative Democrats are pushing in hopes of goading Republicans into retreating from the issue), though Jensen’s campaign has suffered from other issues, such as weak fundraising, and Democrats have dominated the state’s last several gubernatorial elections.

Regardless, Jensen, who gained notoriety last year for defying COVID-19 conventional wisdom in his medical practice, has opted to take a much more deferential approach to abortion. His campaign page addressing the issue frames it strictly as a “plan to support and protect women,” with the protection of preborn children all but ignored.

Instead, the text and video message (with running mate Matt Birk) focuses on policies such as state-subsidized maternity leave, lowering adoption costs, increasing birth control “access,” and increased punishment for sex trafficking and crimes targeting women, with the only directly pro-life policies they endorse being parental notification and increased funding for crisis pregnancy centers.

Jensen justifies his downplaying of the issue by invoking Doe vs. Gomez, the 1995 ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court claiming that the Minnesota Constitution protects a “right” to abortion, which this summer was cited to invalidate several pro-life measures, including parental notification. As explained by Minnesota Concerned Citizens for Life (MCCL), Gomez also forced the state to fund abortions via Medicaid, which has been responsible for “bankroll[ing] close to 100,000 abortions at a cost of about $29 million.”

“Going forward, the election of pro-life candidates for governor and state Legislature is necessary in order to enact protections for unborn children and their mothers — and to challenge the harmful Doe v. Gomez ruling,” the group says. “The Legislature is responsible for passing legislation, and the governor is responsible for signing or vetoing legislation as well as appointing justices to the Minnesota Supreme Court who could decide the fate of Gomez.”

Jensen appears to be following an example set by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Blake Masters in Arizona, who angered pro-lifers late last month by erasing from his website his claim to be 100% pro-life and support personhood legislation.