Minnesota Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Birk appeared to double down Wednesday on contentious comments he made about abortion and women on the day the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Speaking at the National Right to Life conference in Georgia last month, Birk said American culture "loudly but also stealthily promotes abortion" by "telling women they should look a certain way, they should have careers." Birk said abortion rights activists who oppose bans that do not allow exceptions for rape or incest victims "always want to go to the rape card."
An abortion, Birk said, is "not going to heal the wounds of that."
"Two wrongs is not gonna … make it right," said Birk, a former Minnesota Vikings center who is the running mate of Scott Jensen, the GOP-endorsed candidate for governor.
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz's campaign released videos of Birk's June speech this week. At a press conference Tuesday, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan condemned Birk's remarks as "disrespectful towards survivors."
In a video statement posted to his Twitter account Wednesday, Birk said, "I've done over 200 pro-life events over the last 10 years and I've given the same speech pretty much every time."
Referring to his earlier comments about women's careers, Birk elaborated that he thinks women are told they either can have a career or be a mother, not both.
"Why don't we uplift both those things? I don't think we promote motherhood enough," Birk said. He accused Flanagan of misinterpreting and politicizing his position, adding, "Aren't you a mother? Isn't that more important than being lieutenant governor?"
During his June speech, Birk also likened the fight to outlaw abortion to the struggle to end slavery. He also joked about whether women should have the right to drive.
"You know, women used to not be able to vote in our country. Now we let 'em drive," Birk said. "I mean, I have three teenager daughters that drive, I don't know if that's a good law or not. Just kidding. Sorry, kidding, kidding to all the women out there."
Birk did not address that comment in his video statement Wednesday.
At her news conference, Flanagan blasted Jensen for choosing a running mate "who does not trust or respect women."
"A woman's choice to have a career, much like her decision on when and whether to have a child, is none of Matt Birk's business," said Flanagan, who has a daughter.
Jensen and Birk criticized the Walz-Flanagan ticket as a single-issue campaign in a joint statement Tuesday.
"As the Jensen-Birk campaign has unveiled detailed, 10-point solutions on problems such as cutting inflation, reducing crime, lowering gas prices and providing affordable and reliable energy to Minnesotans, we have seen zero leadership or solutions from Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan on the issues that daily impact hardworking families in our state," Jensen and Birk said in their statement.
Democrats are going on the offensive on the abortion issue, hoping to rally supporters around fears that a Republican administration would move to undo Minnesota's status as the sole remaining state in the Upper Midwest to maintain the right to an abortion. In Minnesota that right is protected through the state Supreme Court's ruling in the 1995 case Doe v. Gomez.
Walz has also publicly criticized Jensen, a family physician, for saying he supports a ban on abortion except when the life of the mother is in danger, without exceptions for rape and incest. Jensen has said rape and incest could sometimes fall within the realm of endangerment of the mother's life and should be discussed privately with her physician.
Flanagan was joined in her criticism of Birk by sexual assault advocates and survivors, including Becca Johnson, who was raped by a stranger when she was 21 and impregnated as a result. She said she kept her rape a secret for 15 years, only recently sharing what happened to her after Roe was overturned.
"Being raped and impregnated destroyed my sense of security and my ability to speak up for myself," she said. "The only control I had over that situation was choosing abortion."
Abortion access is crucial for the health, safety and overall well being of assault survivors, said Artika Roller, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
"Ending a pregnancy that's been a result of violence is not one of two wrongs," she said. "It is forcing a person who is already victimized to undergo the trauma of continuing a pregnancy that reinforces the violence that they experienced."