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‘This is not the finish line’: Duluth anti-abortion activists celebrate Roe v. Wade overturn

The Northland’s only abortion clinic is readying for an influx of patients. Abortion is no longer legal in South Dakota, North Dakota and Wisconsin.

Woman holding a sign at a pro-life rally
Sarah Sheff, of Duluth, holds a sign that has been updated after the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling overturning the Roe v. Wade precedent before a pro-life rally at the Duluth Federal Building on Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — The mood on the steps of the federal courthouse resembled that of a church service Friday as about 50 people celebrated the toppling earlier that day of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court case that legalized abortion nationwide.

Amid hymns and prayers, speaker Tom Schaer, director of Pro-Life Ministries of Duluth, compared the ruling to Juneteenth, the newly minted federal holiday that recognizes the date in 1865 when the end of slavery was formally proclaimed in Galveston, Texas.

“Slavery had been judged,” Schaer said, “and it was found guilty and wrong. And our nation stands there today. We pray that our nation stands there someday about the abortion issues, as well.”

Ralliers carried “Dads for life” and “Moms for life” signs, and at least a few arrived in a minivan with “Take My Hand, Not My Life” emblazoned on the side. Several hugged before Schaer spoke at the top of the federal building’s steps.

Woman smiling while sitting at a table outside at a rally
Sarah Winandy, assistant director of Pro-Life Ministries of Duluth, smiles while sitting at a table outside of the Duluth Federal Building while welcoming people attending a pro-life rally Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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Friday’s ruling doesn’t ban abortion. It does, though, mean its legality is determined by individual states, many of which have preexisting abortion bans that take effect again or “trigger laws” that were put in place, sometimes years or decades earlier, that automatically ban the practice now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned.

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But the court’s ruling does not “establish a victory,” Schaer told rally goers, any more than the allied victory on D-Day in World War II did.

“This is not the finish line,” he said, “but rather a costly step towards gaining legal protections for preborn people.”
What the step after it might be, at least in Minnesota, isn’t yet clear. Shortly after the rally, Schaer told reporters that he would support any law that would establish protection for “preborn people,” however, it might happen.

A second speaker, Brent Nelson of The Landing Church, called for a blessing on Duluth and Superior and claimed that abortion rights are not ensconced in any state constitution.

“There should be no talk of abortion rights,” Nelson intoned. “It’s a phantom, a delusion. And it’s been lifted.”

Minnesota’s Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the state’s constitution protects abortion rights in a ruling sometimes referred to as it’s own version of Roe v. Wade. Similar protections exist in several other U.S. states. Abortion remains legal in Minnesota .

One counter-protestor showed up to Friday’s rally: Stormy Pierce, who sat quietly to one side of the rally holding a “My body, my choice” sign, which is a rallying cry of abortion rights advocates. She later shouted that slogan repeatedly as she left near the rally’s end.

“And you are!” Pierce shouted pointedly when Schear said people believe anti-abortion activists are against women, rights and health.

To one side stood Eric and Lynn Hofstad, the latter of whom agreed that abortion is a matter of choice.

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“If you don’t want to be pregnant,” Lynn Hofstad said, “say no to sex.”

Woman holds a sign that reads My Body My Choice
Stormy Pierce, of Duluth, holds a sign that reads "My Body My Choice" while sitting on a curb in front of the Duluth Federal Building during a pro-life rally Friday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Duluth clinic expects more patients

Meanwhile, more patients are expected to travel to Duluth seeking an abortion after Friday’s Supreme Court decision.

The WE Health Clinic in downtown Duluth, the Northland’s only abortion clinic and one of only a handful in the state, is already seeing more demand, said Paulina Briggs, laboratory supervisor at the clinic.

“We’ve seen an increase of patients actually coming up from the cities because (Twin Cities abortion providers) are seeing an increase in patients coming in from out-of-state and then the patients that live in those areas are getting displaced … we’re seeing that spillover in our clinic,” Briggs said.

But the clinic expects more out-of-state patients too, especially from North Dakota and South Dakota, which have trigger laws outlawing abortion in the state when Roe v. Wade is overturned, and Wisconsin, which has a 173-year-old abortion ban on the books that became effective again after Friday's decision. Abortion remains legal in Iowa.

“People who have the means to travel will come to Minnesota, but we're also very saddened that people of color, people living in poverty, they are not going to have the same advantage to be able to travel to Minnesota because they just can't afford it,” Laurie Casey, executive director of the WE Health Clinic, told the News Tribune.

For Casey, Friday’s decision was expected, but it was still a heavy day.

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“It’s just a sad day for all of us,” Casey said. “Even though we knew this was coming, it’s still really hard when it actually happens.”

In a separate interview with the News Tribune, Schaer indicated he recognizes Friday’s ruling will lead to more abortions in Duluth, but he hopes it will mobilize more local activists and “sidewalk counselors” — advocates who try to dissuade patients from walking into downtown Duluth’s Building for Women for an abortion.

“We recognize that for a season, abortions — the killing of children — will continue and probably increase somewhat in Minnesota,” Schaer said.

He’s not sure what the future of abortion will be in Minnesota. At least for now, Casey is confident it will continue to be legal in the state.

“As long as we have a pro-choice governor, I feel good about abortion access,” Casey said. “But that can be taken away at any time.”

This story was updated at 2:46 p.m. June 24 with quotes from Tom Schaer and Laurie Casey, then again at 8:18 p.m. with coverage of the anti-abortion rally in front of the courthouse in Duluth. It was originally posted at 2:20 p.m. June 24.

Joe Bowen is an award-winning reporter at the Duluth News Tribune. He covers schools and education across the Northland.

You can reach him at:
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