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The most telling GOP flip-flops and walk backs on abortion

Minnesota gubernatorial candidate and physician Scott Jensen (R), at his Watertown, Minn., clinic on Sept. 22, 2021. (Jim Mone/AP)

It has pretty much become abundantly clear that the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has created at least a momentary political problem for Republicans.

Democrats have repeatedly overperformed in special elections since then, and they’ve also gained in the “generic ballot” of the 2022 midterm election, raising doubts about the GOP’s hopes of winning both the House and Senate. Republicans are also in the position of accounting for what the party will do now that the Supreme Court no longer prevents them from banning abortion — something that was a powerful issue in the abstract but is considerably more fraught now.

And perhaps nothing drives home the difficulty of that position like the flip-flops and walk backs by some key Republicans. Below are some of the biggest reversals on this issue of late.

1. Scott Jensen

Before: The Minnesota gubernatorial candidate said in March, while vying for the GOP nomination, “I would try to ban abortion.” A month later, he was even stronger, making it a promise. Responding to Gov. Tim Walz’s (D) claim that Jensen and his running mate supported banning abortions, Jensen said: “No kidding, Sherlock. You’re darn right we do.” He added: “We’re going to get something done when we’re governor: We’re going to ban abortions. That’s really not news.”

Now: Jensen this week began running an ad stating: “In Minnesota, [abortion] is a protected constitutional right, and no governor can change that. And I’m not running to do that.” Jensen’s website has also changed its language on this issue. It previously said Jensen “believes in the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death,” but it has now excised the “from conception to natural death” language.

2. Blake Masters

Before: In December, as a candidate for U.S. Senate, the Arizona Republican likened abortion to “genocide.” His website until recently also said he was “100% pro-life” and supported “a federal personhood law” — a standard favored by advocates who want to ban all abortion.

Now: Masters scrubbed the above references from his website a few weeks after he won his primary, as NBC News and CNN reported. (Several other GOP candidates have also done this; some have also nixed references to Donald Trump’s endorsement.) He now says his state banning abortion after 15 weeks is “a reasonable solution.” And in a new ad, he emphasized only his opposition to late-term abortions.

3. Mehmet Oz

Before: In May, while trying to account for past comments that were more supportive of abortion rights, the Pennsylvania Republican nominee for Senate likened abortion at any stage to “murder,” according to audio recently published by the Daily Beast. “I do believe life starts at conception,” he said, adding: “If life starts at conception, why do you care what stage our hearts start beating at? It’s, you know — it’s still murder if you were to terminate a child, whether their heart’s beating or not.”

Now: Despite comparing the practice to “murder,” Oz at a news conference this week said, “There should not be criminal penalties for doctors or women regarding abortion.” His campaign has also said he “supports exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother.”

4. Zach Nunn

Before: The Iowa congressional candidate was asked at a May primary debate whether he supported banning “all abortions” with “no exceptions.” Like his two Republican opponents, he raised his hand. Incumbent Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), has used the scene in a campaign ad.

Now: Nunn wrote an op-ed for the Des Moines Register last month affirming that he supports an exception for the life of the mother and pointing to legislation he voted for that had other exceptions, including for rape and incest. (Pressed about the conflicting positions by the Associated Press last month, Nunn reportedly claimed the May debate question wasn’t so specific. But in fact, the moderator had asked, “Should all abortions be illegal in this country?” Nunn himself even asked for a clarification, at which point the moderator responded that he was asking about an abortion ban with “no exceptions.”)

5. Mark Ronchetti

Before: The New Mexico gubernatorial nominee ran for Senate in 2020 while calling himself “strongly pro-life” and saying, “Life should be protected — at all stages.” The day Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, his gubernatorial campaign website also described him as “strongly Pro-Life.”

Now: Ronchetti’s campaign website now says he’s “pro-life,” without the “strongly.” It adds: “... but as governor he will seek a middle ground with our legislature.” And, like Masters, it cites what voters want in saying Ronchetti supports “permitting abortion up to 15 weeks and in cases involving rape, incest, and when a mother’s life is at risk.” Ronchetti has also run an ad supportive of the 15-week ban.

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