Longtime protesters and escorts stand firm at North Dakota’s only abortion clinic – InForum
FARGO — For decades, protesters and patient escorts held their ground on the sidewalk outside the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota.
Rain or shine, winter or summer, and usually every Wednesday, the day abortions are performed, protesters carry signs, pray, kneel on cement and try to offer women an option out of the procedure.
Escorts dressed in colorful vests are there to help patients get in and out of the clinic in downtown Fargo.
Usually both sides are calm, but the atmosphere is always tense. On Wednesday, May 4, the air was particularly volatile as at least two patients entered the clinic before 10 a.m.
Uncertainty was also in the air, with the clinic’s future thrown into question by Monday’s Politico report on a
suggesting that a majority of Supreme Court justices voted to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade laying the groundwork for legal abortion in the United States
Quin Overland is an escort who has been volunteering at the clinic since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. She said most of her sidewalk interactions are civil, but there were moments of contention.
“We have been called ‘secretaries of Satan’, ‘deathscorts’ and ‘damsels of murder’,” she said.
“Some people yell at me, and other people who aren’t regulars have threatened me. It’s usually friendly around the corner and hostile at the door,” said Overland, who believes women “deserve the right to have autonomy over their bodies.”
Makenzie Smith, of Fargo, has been protesting at the clinic for a year. She too was threatened, sometimes by escorts, sometimes by passers-by, she said.
“I’m here to give a voice to people who have no voice,” Smith said. “But everything is so polarized that you can’t even have a conversation. When someone yells at me from the other side, it just makes you tough.
Sometimes she kneels on the pavement, which is painful. “But there’s something powerful about kneeling before an almighty God and asking for mercy,” Smith said.
Doug VanderMeulen of Fargo has been protesting for 18 of the last 24 years the clinic has been operating.
“It was when I learned what abortion does to the mother that I started protesting. A high percentage ends up in very high self-destructive behavior. There is nothing pro-women about abortion,” VanderMeulen said.
He believes the leaked draft notice was manipulation and an attempt to derail democracy.
“A lot is going to happen by the end of June. The leak was clearly intended to sway the justices and get Congress to codify Roe v. Wade,” VanderMeulen said.
He said his experience with patient escorts was mostly civilian.
“We will always have a difference in perception on every issue, but being able to talk about it and not just refute it is kind of lost,” VanderMeulen said.
If the Supreme Court overturns Roe, North Dakota has
which would prohibit abortion within 30 days. Additionally, Congress could pass legislation to make abortion legal or illegal nationwide.
North Dakota’s trigger law would make it a Class C felony for anyone who performs an abortion, unless a pregnant woman is performing an abortion herself. A Class C felony carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said the clinic has a contingency plan to move to Moorhead, where Minnesota officials are expected to continue allowing abortions if Roe is disbanded.
Another anti-abortion protester, Dave Foerster, also from Fargo, began protesting in 1973 but became more involved as he neared retirement age. He said he only missed one Wednesday when it was 32 degrees below zero.
When a patient shows up at the clinic’s door, Foerster and other protesters have about 10 seconds to try to dissuade the woman from having an abortion, he said.
For Foerster, the leaked draft notice is a good thing.
“That’s what we prayed for, and it’ll make a big difference for us on the sidewalk, and we’ll cross the river.”
Margaret McKenzie of Fargo has volunteered as a patient escort when she can for the past eight years.
“A person’s right to decide when to have children is a primary right,” said McKenzie, who said her parents come to help at the clinic when they can.
The leaked draft opinion came as no surprise to McKenzie, who has tracked Supreme Court appointments since President George W. Bush named John Roberts Jr. Chief Justice in 2005.
“People who are shocked by this information haven’t been paying attention,” McKenzie said. “If access to abortion is restricted, we will see devastating consequences.”
She does not clash with the demonstrators. She remains silent.
“We’re all here for the same reason,” McKenzie said of the escorts and protesters, “and they’re trying to figure us out, but they’re dead wrong.”
Kromenaker was proud on Tuesday when abortion rights advocates gathered at the Fargo federal courthouse to voice their opinions against a potential U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
“It was great to see the rally at the courthouse last night. It’s great that people are ready to take to the streets and make their voices heard. I definitely want this to continue, my fear is that the “People’s outrage is fading, and we need to keep the momentum going. We’re seeing patients today, that’s our number one priority at Red River Women’s Clinic,” Kromenaker said.
If the clinic moves across the Red River to Moorhead, then Smith, VanderMeulen, Foerster and others will follow to renew the protests at the new location.
“Minnesota has every right to decide what it wants to do, and I prefer that the people not make that decision. God’s will is the ultimate law,” said VanderMeulen, who supports states’ rights in abortion laws. “My desire is that no one aborts a child in any condition.”