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Pawlenty’s statements on abortion: mostly true

As he raises his national visibility with speeches, television appearances and other public statements, speculation grows that Gov. Tim Pawlenty will run for president in 2012. This is one of an occasional series of articles that examine Pawlenty’s statements about his work in Minnesota and topics of national interest.

Pawlenty Watch

WASHINGTON, D.C. — At a recent gathering of social conservatives in Washington, D.C., Gov. Tim Pawlenty called attention to his stance on abortion, stressing his pro-life bona fides and indicating that he helped to reduce abortions in Minnesota through the enactment of a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having the procedure.

The governor said the law has been “very effective” in helping reduce the abortions in Minnesota.

Here’s what Pawlenty said:

“…I’ve proposed and signed into law the so-called women’s right to know bill, which provides women important information who are considering abortion, and it also provides a waiting period for them to consider their decision.  That combined with many other measures and efforts of good-hearted people all across Minnesota has significantly decreased the number of abortions performed in my state, and it’s a very effective piece of legislation.”

Truthfulness rating: Mostly true

Pawlenty did champion and then sign into law the so-called “Woman’s Right to Know” bill. And it is  true that the rate of abortion has been steadily decreasing in the state.

Although Pawlenty does not claim that the law is the only factor in the declining number of abortions in the state, he implies that it has played a significant role by not only naming it in his speech but also by calling it “a very effective piece of legislation.”

It may be the case that the legislation has prevented some women from having abortions, but there is no study yet that has shown how effective it or other measures have been in reducing abortions in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Public Health says it is not known exactly why those numbers are going down.  “We are just strictly reporting on the facts of the [number of] abortions, not why… [women] are choosing to have an abortion or not,” said Carol Hajicek, at the Minnesota Center for Health Statistics.


Although Pawlenty told the Pioneer Press in 1992 that “the abortion issue isn’t a big deal to him,” he has since taken a more hard-line approach to the matter.

During his re-election campaign in 2006, Pawlenty opposed taxpayer funding of abortions and seemed to advocate a ban on all abortions unless the woman’s life was in danger or the pregnancy was the result of incest or rape.

At a Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life rally in 2006, he also appeared to support the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

“We have a dream today that someday soon this will not be an anniversary of sadness, but an anniversary of justice restored,” Pawlenty said at the event, which was held outside Minnesota’s Capitol on the 33rd anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision.

Pawlenty echoed some of the same sentiments during the gathering in Washington this month.

“Life is a blessing,” Pawlenty told the audience of nearly 2,000. “It is a precious gift that’s been given to us, and it needs to be respected and protected.”

Pawlenty, who served in the state Legislature for 10 years, then touched on the legislation that he pushed as House majority leader and signed into law as governor in 2003.

In addition to the 24-hour waiting period, the law requires that women be offered information on the risks and alternatives to abortion.

At the same time, Pawlenty highlighted the decrease in number of reported abortions in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the rate of abortions reported (PDF) in the state has been steadily decreasing since around 1980 with some fluctuations.

Most recently, that rate dropped from 12.1 percent in 2007 to 11.2 percent in 2008, which represented 895 fewer abortions.

Meanwhile, of the 15,712 women who approached physicians about having an abortion in 2008, 12,948 were reported to have had the procedure done in Minnesota.

Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, pointed to this number set as evidence that the law could be having an impact.

But Kathi Di Nicola, director of media relations for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, indicated that reproductive health care, contraception and sex education played a larger role.

“Every July when the abortion report goes out, we say that [the decrease in abortions] is because of positive alternatives,” said Fischbach. “And the other side says that it is because of contraceptives.”

The Minnesota Department of Health does not specifically know why the numbers are declining because the state has not yet done a study on that question, according to Hajicek.

“There is no way you can say,” Hajicek said. “There is not enough identifying information on the informed consent forms.”


MinnPost contacted the governor’s office this week about the decreasing number of abortions in the state and if any definitive study had been done on the  reasons behind the decline.

 “The 2008 total is the lowest number on record since 1975 and is also the lowest abortion rate (11.2 per 1,000 females age 15-44) since 1975,” Brian McClung, Pawlenty’s director of communications, replied in an email.

McClung did not mention any studies that measure why this drop in abortions has occurred in the state. Instead, he advised speaking to advocacy groups on both sides of the issue “to get their take on what they believe is influencing the decline.”

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/28/2009 - 02:21 pm.

    This ought to corrected to read “number of LEGAL abortions’, since numerous studies have shown that making legal abortions more difficult increases the number of ‘back alley’ abortions, with attendant health risks and increased medical care costs.
    The State might in fact end up paying more for illegal abortions than it does for legal ones.

    If he really wanted to decrease the number of abortions, he’d increase funding for sex education in schools.

  2. Submitted by John Wexler on 09/28/2009 - 02:44 pm.

    This is typical paternalistic Republican rhetoric. Pawlenty like his ultra conservative Republicans can’t wait to get into our bedrooms. What he should be talking about is full health care for women, instead of chipping around the edges.

  3. Submitted by Jeff Klein on 09/28/2009 - 06:34 pm.

    In the very most optimistic reading, the implication that his law reduced the number of abortions is unverified. That is, it could be true or it could not be, and there’s no direct evidence pointing either way. Now how is that “mostly true”?

    In a more realistic reading, this quote is likely false. It’s well known that birth control availability and sex education has a much bigger effect on abortion rates than any pro-life shenanigans.

  4. Submitted by Charlie Quimby on 09/28/2009 - 07:42 pm.

    This claim is also meaningless absent comparison to national and state figures. Abortion rates have been declining since 1981 and in 2005 reached the lowest rate nationally since 1974. The Gov may just be crowing at the sunrise and claiming credit for it.

  5. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/28/2009 - 11:40 pm.

    Damning with faint praise…..

  6. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/29/2009 - 05:23 pm.

    There’s no pulling the wool over your eyes, is there Richard.

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