Anti-abortion group puts Rep. Andy Smith, of Rochester, in the crosshairs of abortion debate

Once staunchly opposed to abortion, Smith, a DFLer, says he has evolved on the issue.

andy smith
Rep. Andy Smith (DFL - Rochester).
Contributed / Minnesota House of Representatives / Catherine Davis

ROCHESTER — It was Rep. Andy Smith’s first week in the Minnesota Legislature when he found himself in the “crosshairs” of the abortion debate.

The anti-abortion group Minnesota Right to Life posted a video of Smith, a DFL freshman legislator from Rochester and a supporter of abortion rights, with a rifle’s crosshairs wandering the screen. When the bullseye centers on Smith, the words “Target Locked” appear on the screen.

Trailing Smith into an elevator and later down a hallway of the State Office Building, Minnesota Right to Life executive director Ben Dorr, who made the video, can be heard off screen peppering Smith with questions and accusations.

“Why do you hate babies?” Dorr said. “Do you like tearing arms and legs off? Do you have any children?"

“Life, Jesus gave us life,” says a woman’s voice.


“It’s a raging pro-abort right here. Baby killer. Got any babies of your own?” Dorr said as Smith entered a restricted area of the building.

Throughout the confrontation, Smith reacts in a polite and unperturbed way, smiling once and saying simply, “I believe women and those who can be pregnant should have control over their own body and their own medical decisions.”

A change of mind

In targeting Smith, Minnesota Right to Life chose someone, perhaps unintentionally, who had engaged and wrestled with the issue for years. It is hard to imagine a legislator having covered a wider span of stances than Smith on the abortion issue.

As a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and Westminster Seminary California, Smith once had dreams of becoming a priest. Then, he was as passionately opposed to abortion as he is today supportive of a woman’s right to one.

Smith said his views began to evolve and change as he immersed himself in U.S. Supreme Court decisions on the issue. On a more personal, searing level, a miscarriage suffered by his wife, Anna, and the couple’s struggles with infertility prompted and deepened his soul-searching on the question.

“While I wish the agonies of infertility on no one, it does provide the best sex education available in our current society,” Smith wrote in a campaign piece titled, “Why I changed My Mind on Abortion.”

Given his upbringing and education, Smith has a host of family members and friends who vehemently oppose his support for abortion rights. But the bare-knuckle tactics used by Minnesota Right to Life, Smith said, weren’t aimed at narrowing or highlighting differences. They were mainly designed to “inflame” and “promote outrage.”


“My mother-in-law, who is very pro-life, called me to say that their Bible study group prayed for me,” Smith said. “Even though they don’t agree (on his stance), they prayed for me to be safe.”

Abortion law

On Tuesday, the emotional debate over abortion culminated with DFL Gov. Tim Walz signing into law a “fundamental right” to abortion access and reproductive care in the state. Smith was present at the signing.

The right to terminate a pregnancy is guaranteed in the state’s constitution through the state Supreme Court’s 1995 Doe v. Gomez decision. But after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, upending nearly a half-century precedent protecting abortion rights, Walz and DFL legislators made adding a layer of protection for abortion a top priority of the session.

State Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, was a target of the anti-abortion group, according to the Minnesota Reformer.

The confrontation with Minnesota Right to Life members occurred soon after Smith had emerged from a House committee hearing on the abortion bill. It was Smith’s first Thursday in the Legislature. At that hearing, Dorr vowed to expose and hold accountable anyone who voted for the abortion legislation.

“We will never let the pro-life community forget this vote,” Dorr said. “Long after the fire has died down over the overturning of Roe vs. Wade, Minnesota Right to Life will be in districts across the state exposing politicians for their pro-death votes."

Post Bulletin attempts Wednesday to reach the organization for comment were unsuccessful.

'Bodily autonomy'

At that same hearing, Smith told the committee he was fully supportive of the bill.


“We have defended a pregnant person’s ability to their own bodily autonomy, to make critical decisions without the interference of the state,” Smith said about the bill. “We have recognized the complexities that women and families and all those who can become pregnant face with these difficult decisions.”

Ten years ago, with a newly minted bachelor’s degree in theology, Smith had no doubts that human life began at conception and that abortion in all cases was murder. He knew no one who didn’t believe as he did.

Smith said his thinking began to shift when he started reading Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage and abortion. His intention was to arm himself with arguments against their “flawed reasoning.” But he found himself agreeing with the court's opinions.

Especially on the issue of a person's right to privacy, a cherished conservative value, Smith said he was shocked that “some people wanted the government to make medical decisions for half the population.”

Smith said he was also struck by the absence of guidance or mention of abortion in the Bible. While the Ten Commandments is unequivocal in its condemnation of murder, it is relatively silent on the issue of abortion, Smith said. In fact, in one passage in Exodus, he said, the author’s focus is on the safety of the woman.

“The Bible wasn’t very clear about abortion, and definitely not clear enough to support the stranglehold anti-abortion voices held in the evangelical community,” he wrote.

The issue became personal for Smith and his wife when the couple tried to start having a family. Their dreams appeared to be on the verge of realization when she became pregnant. But during an emergency doctor’s appointment, an ultrasound revealed there was no baby.

“The pain of miscarriage is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Your grief is based not on something that you lost, but on something that you never had,” he said.


There was more bad news. The doctor told the couple that he couldn’t find an embryo on the ultrasound and that it might still be in Anna’s fallopian tube. It’s called an ectopic pregnancy. The risk was that if there was an embryo and it was still growing, it could have burst the fallopian tube and risked his wife’s life.

It presented the couple with a heretofore unimaginable option. In order to save his wife’s life, they might have to “intentionally kill a living embryo.”

In the end, the couple were spared having to make a decision. They eventually learned that the embryo had died as the result of a miscarriage.

“As we grieved the loss, we struggled to incorporate this new information that abortion was not evil in all circumstances, but in many circumstances was life-saving care,” Smith said.

Matthew Stolle has been a Post Bulletin reporter since 2000 and covered many of the beats that make up a newsroom. In his first several years, he covered K-12 education and higher education in Rochester before shifting to politics. He has also been a features writer. Today, Matt jumps from beat to beat, depending on what his editor and the Rochester area are producing in terms of news. Readers can reach Matthew at 507-281-7415 or
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