In Tim Pawlenty’s recent autobiography Courage to Stand, the word “abortion” only appears once in nearly 300 pages sketching his life story and record as governor of Minnesota. Pawlenty blandly characterizes abortion as a “lightning-rod issue associated with social policy,” and goes on only to say “I’m pro-life.”
This is the sort of book politicians write to introduce themselves to a national audience—but here and in most other speeches and interviews, Pawlenty seems reluctant to talk about his views on abortion. The issues page of his campaign website contains only one reference to his abortion stance, a three-sentence statement on the annual March for Life.
In reality, however, Pawlenty’s views on a woman’s right to choose are among the more extreme in the emerging GOP field. National Review dubbed Pawlenty as possibly “the strongest pro-life candidate in 2012.” Under Pawlenty, who is an evangelical Christian, Minnesota was the first state to give women bogus information on “fetal pain” in an effort to dissuade them from having an abortion. He also signed laws providing women with information about “alternatives” to abortion, which became a model for other states, and has engaged in years of direct outreach to extreme antichoice groups.
“The more women voters learn about Governor Pawlenty’s anti–women’s health record, the more impossible it will be for him to pick up the support of independent voters in the general election,” said Dawn Laguens of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
That may be true, but Pawlenty first needs to win over the social conservative base that dominates crucial states like Iowa and South Carolina. There’s a lot for them to like.
Less than one year into his governorship, Pawlenty signed the Women’s Right to Know Act of 2003. The law required physicians to provide women with information about abortion alternatives at least twenty-four hours prior to the procedure, including a list of adoption centers, detailed information about fetal development, and a description of the risks associated with abortion procedures.
Shortly after the law was enacted, controversy erupted over the information the Minnesota Department of Health was providing to women. On its website, MDH claimed that several studies had found a link between induced abortion and breast cancer rates, a long-debunked claim of antichoice activists. This prompted the nonpartisan Minnesota Medical Association to criticize MDH and demand the information be removed, lest the episode “erode the Department’s credibility.” In a letter to Pawlenty, the Minnesota Public Health Association, another nonpartisan group, said the state health department “should not be used to advance a political opinion.”
In the midst of the controversy, Pawlenty’s state health commissioner admitted that those areas of the department’s website were developed not by medical experts but rather in consultation with Minnesota Citizen’s Concerned for Life, a leading antichoice group in the state.