AG Ellison presses GOP opponent on abortion; Schultz says focus is crime
Now confronted with a challenge from the other side of the abortion debate, Republican nominee for Minnesota attorney general Jim Schultz continues to downplay the issue’s importance in the race. He argues the attorney general’s office ultimately has very little influence over abortion policy in the state of Minnesota and said the question is fundamentally for the legislature to decide.
ST. PAUL — With abortion rights shaping up to be a central issue in the 2022 election, Democratic candidates continue to press their Republican opponents on the issue, including in the race for Minnesota attorney general.
Republican attorney general candidate Jim Schultz has expressed views against abortion in the past and has served on an anti-abortion nonprofit, but insists the race is about combating rising crime as violent offenses remain at highs not seen in decades. Democratic incumbent Keith Ellison, meanwhile, says his GOP challenger misunderstands the role the attorney general’s office should play in prosecuting crime, and should stand up for abortion rights, which are guaranteed under the state constitution but no longer protected federally following the overturning of Roe v. Wade.
“This is absolutely an issue in this campaign, and I want to be clear that my opponent is not committed to these rights,” Ellison told reporters at the capitol Friday, Sept. 9, later adding: “Nobody can escape, being accountable to the public as to what they will do to stand up for a woman's right to choose.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James and Planned Parenthood North Central States President and CEO Sarah Stoesz also spoke in support of Ellison.
“Abortion rights are very, very, very much on the ballot in this election,” said Stoesz. “And Minnesotans are rightly curious as to where candidates stand.”
Schultz, who became the GOP nominee after beating challenger Doug Wardlow in the August primary, supports some restrictions on abortion, including a 20-week ban, but insists the central issue in the campaign for attorney general is crime. He has said he would not use the office to pursue further restrictions on abortion. Ahead of the Aug. 9 primary, Wardlow attempted to paint Schultz as weak on abortion, but ultimately the strategy failed to win over the majority of GOP voters.
Now confronted with a challenge from the other side of the abortion debate, Schultz continues to downplay the issue’s importance in the race. He argues the attorney general’s office ultimately has very little influence over abortion policy in the state of Minnesota and said the question is fundamentally for the legislature to decide.
Asked what he thought of Ellison’s June pledge to protect out-of-state abortion seekers from prosecution or liability in their home states, Schultz said his opponent was merely invoking a hypothetical situation in an attempt to make the race about abortion.
“There's no potential prospect to stand up for women in that manner,” said Schultz. “He’s making it up as though he's a law school professor and not the attorney general.”
While no state currently has an abortion travel ban on the books, lawmakers in states with restrictive abortion laws have floated such restrictions. Already, a Texas abortion law that bans the procedure after the sixth week of pregnancy allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and individuals who get abortions.
To fight crime, Schultz said he wants to grow the criminal division of the attorney general’s office by moving staff from other divisions currently tasked with “regulatory action.” He questioned why the attorney general’s office under Ellison’s direction pursued a “frivolous” lawsuit against fossil fuel companies over climate change.
Ellison has stood by his lawsuit, and told reporters Friday that one of the core roles of the office is consumer protection. He said Schultz’s proposal to shift the attorney general’s office to a crime-centric mission showed his opponent has a “poor concept” of the attorney general’s job, and pointed out his office had prosecuted 40 serious crimes since he became attorney general in 2019.
Schultz, however, said the attorney general’s office should be able to “walk and chew gum at the same time,” continuing to engage in consumer protection actions while strengthening the crime division.
As Minnesota’s top legal officer, the attorney general represents the state and its agencies in lawsuits, enforces consumer protection and antitrust laws and regulates charities. The office takes consumer complaints and can use its power to prosecute businesses that violate the law. But one of its roles is also to assist smaller jurisdictions with fewer resources in prosecuting serious crimes.