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Opposing sides rally, protest outside North Dakota's only abortion clinic

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Abortion rights supporters march through anti-abortion supporters Tuesday, May 21, at the Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 2 / 5
Abortion rights supporters rally Tuesday, May 21, at the Red River Women’s Clinic, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 3 / 5
Maddy Jansky, Fargo, speaks during an abortion rights rally march Tuesday, May 21, in Island Park, Fargo. She told the crowd that it was "super important" to speak out about abortion rights with recent legislation passed in other states. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 4 / 5
Caitlin Ross, Fargo, speaks during an abortion rights rally march Tuesday, May 21, in Island Park, Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor 5 / 5

FARGO — In one of the city's most boisterous marches in recent times, about 250 abortion rights supporters angry about restrictive abortion laws passed by a number of state legislatures marched from Island Park through downtown to the Red River Women's Clinic late Tuesday afternoon, May 21.

At the clinic, the state's only abortion provider, they were met by a much smaller group of about 35 anti-abortion demonstrators who sang hymns and said prayers as the chanting marchers rolled by.

"Keep this clinic open," the marchers shouted, as well as chanting "use your voice, stand up for choice."

In an earlier rally at Island Park before the march, organizer Destini Spaeth, of Fargo, said the recent votes in mostly southern state legislatures to heavily restrict abortions were a "coordinated, direct attack to overturn" the almost 50-year-old Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision giving women the constitutional right to choose whether to give birth.

In more colorful language, she told the crowd that they were angry. The crowd responded with a loud and prolonged cheer.

Spaeth said what prompted the rally, and others in 50 states on Tuesday, was mostly the state of Alabama's enactment of a law that effectively bans abortion and allows doctors who perform the procedure to be jailed for up to 99 years.

Abortion laws passed in several other states this year introduced a number of different restrictions. Georgia passed a "fetal heartbeat" bill banning abortion after six weeks, while Missouri's new law bans abortion after eight weeks with no exceptions for rape and incest. Other states, including North Dakota, also passed laws chipping away at the Supreme Court ruling which outlaws any restrictions on abortion through the first 12 weeks.

The crowd at Island Park also heard from Caitlin Ross, who said at age 16 she traveled to Wichita, Kansas, to get an abortion from Dr. George Tiller, whom she said "saved my life."

"I was going to kill myself," she said if she didn't get her late-term abortion after not finding out she was pregnant until 23 weeks.

Ross, who said having her baby "wasn't an option," told the crowd she has never forgotten the "hatred" in the voices of the protesters who yelled at her as she entered the Kansas clinic.

Meanwhile at the Fargo clinic, members of the state's pro-life groups and churches held signs, sang a "children of the world" song and recited the Lord's Prayer.

Organizer Kalika Joy, of Fargo, said in an interview before the rally that the recent legislation passed was a "win for women and and win for children."

She is looking forward to the day when Roe v. Wade is overturned, she said.

"I think one day we will look back on abortion like slavery. We'll say, 'How did anyone ever think that was right?'" Joy said.

She said she didn't like the word "protesting" to describe their rally at the clinic. "It's that we care for women in crisis. I think women who seek abortions do it because they are scared. But they don't have to take their babies. We just want to be there to show them support."

Another organizer, Betty Gemmill, of Fargo, said the recent legislation passed "shows the dignity of life in the womb."

She believes human life begins at conception and that "science backs it up."

Gemmill said before the rally started that she was hoping for a peaceful, prayerful, joyful rally with "a lot of smiles."

There weren't a lot of smiles among both groups, but it was peaceful. At one point before the march, an anti-abortion protester interrupted speakers at Island Park and yelled at demonstrators. Police monitored that interaction but did not intervene.

Meanwhile, the head of the state's sole abortion clinic said Tuesday it has not ruled out a lawsuit over recently approved North Dakota legislation requiring physicians to inform women that it may be possible to reverse a drug-induced abortion.

Critics have labeled the bill as anti-science, but backers said it would promote a woman's right to know about her options. Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic, said they're exploring legal options.

"That includes talking to our lawyers to determine what action we may or may not take," she said. "But I haven't committed to anything right now."

The Republican-backed legislation, which Gov. Doug Burgum signed in March, takes effect Aug. 1. Kromenaker previously said 28% of the clinic's patients received a medical abortion in 2018.

North Dakota pushed to ban abortion at six weeks of pregnancy in 2013, but the law was struck down by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals as unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court refused in 2016 to hear an appeal by North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem to overturn the 8th Circuit's ruling.

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