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North Dakota's lone abortion clinic to move to Minnesota after Supreme Court ruling

Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker said while she knew the ruling was coming because of the draft opinion leaked in May, it's still "devastating."

Tammi Kromenaker, director of ND's only abortion clinic, stands unsmiling in the hallway of the clinic.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, stands in the hallway of the facility on Friday, June 24, 2022. Earlier in the day, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturned Roe v. Wade, setting in motion North Dakota's "trigger" law that will eventually ban abortion.
Chris Flynn/The Forum
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FARGO — North Dakota’s only abortion clinic will move from Fargo to Moorhead after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, June 24, returning the abortion issue to state legislatures.

When the move of the Red River Women’s Clinic occurs, it will mark the first time in more than 40 years that North Dakota will be without a facility providing abortions.

Clinic Director Tammi Kromenaker said while she knew the ruling was coming because of the draft opinion leaked in May, it's still "devastating."

"Unreal. Unbelievable," Kromenaker said in an interview from the clinic. "It's vicious. But to see it become reality is still a shock."

Jane Bovard, who opened the state’s first abortion clinic in Fargo in 1981 and later started RRWC in 1998, said she fought with lawmakers for years to continue performing abortions and despite their efforts, the clinic was still able to provide services.

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“It's just really sad," Bovard said from her home in Stillwater, Minnesota."We certainly are going backwards."

The court’s decision prompts a 2007 “trigger” law that's expected to ban abortion in North Dakota in 30 days, once the state attorney general reviews the matter. South Dakota has a similar law. The ruling has no effect in Minnesota, which has no such law.

Supporters of abortion rights plan to protest the ruling outside the Quentin N. Burdick U.S. Courthouse at 655 1st Ave. N. in Fargo from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, June 24.

As part of the rally, there is a tentative plan to march through downtown, according to a Facebook event posted by an organizer.

The sidewalk in front of the clinic at 512 1st Ave. N. in downtown Fargo is often the site of anti-abortion protests, but it was quiet Friday after the court ruling came out.

Demonstrators stand outside the Red River Women's Clinic on Oct. 9, 2013, in Fargo as lunch time customers eat outside a nearby restaurant.
Demonstrators stand outside the Red River Women's Clinic on Oct. 9, 2013, in Fargo as lunchtime customers eat outside a nearby restaurant.
Dave Wallis / The Forum

Kromenaker said they’ve purchased a space for a clinic in Moorhead but are not yet ready to disclose its location.

“Our focus right now is on making sure our patients know abortion is still legal in North Dakota,” she said, referring to the period before the ban takes effect, and said the aim is to ensure there is little to no disruption in services.

"Even if there's a week where we can't see patients, that's still going to be likely a better case scenario than any alternative," Kromenaker said.

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A Gofundme site set up Thursday to raise money for renovations and furnishings at the new Moorhead location surpassed $200,000 of a $250,000 goal by 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Kromenaker said the monetary support and emails from people offering to be patient escorts at the clinic are overwhelming but not surprising.

"We know that the vast majority of people support abortion rights and so those who can are putting their money where their mouth is," she said.

Kromenaker said she will mourn the loss of the clinic in North Dakota.

“While we may not be within the boundaries of North Dakota anymore, Red River Women’s Clinic and the services our community relies on are here to stay,” she said.

Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said their organization would consider providing abortion services across the border from North Dakota if the Red River Women's Clinic doesn't do so.

Stoesz said if RRWC opens a Moorhead clinic, Planned Parenthood would welcome them. If not, they will step in and provide services, she said.

Christopher Dodson, executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said their organization is very happy with the Supreme Court's decision, because it remedies an injustice in the law that prevented states from creating “sanctuaries for life.”

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Dodson said both sides on the abortion issue need to understand each other better.

"The pro-life community needs to understand the hard, hard situations that women have been put in," he said. "Similarly, the other side needs to understand that most people in the community really do care about women and their rights. They just also want to protect that unborn child."

Dodson said now in the ruling's wake, the state needs to, at minimum, double funding for its abortion alternatives program and expand it so it covers more women and children.

Bovard said the naming of the Red River Women’s Clinic more than 20 years ago was strategic.

If abortion became illegal in North Dakota, there was the opportunity to move across the river and still maintain the name and identity, she said.

Before any abortion facility opened in the state, two North Dakota doctors performed abortions as part of their OB-GYN medical practices, Dr. Robert Lucy in Jamestown and Dr. Richard Lee in Grand Forks, Bovard said. Both have since died.

Bovard said she wanted to offer women more complete abortion care that included counseling and support services, so she started the abortion clinic in October 1981, briefly named the North Dakota Women’s Health Organization before becoming the Fargo Women’s Health Organization.

She hired Kromenaker to be her assistant at the clinic, set up in a two-story home off Main Avenue at 11 14th St. S.

The clinic was the scene of tense abortion protests and the target of break-ins and fire-bombings in the early 1990s.

In March 1991, about two dozen abortion protesters broke into the clinic and linked themselves together at the neck with Kryptonite bike locks.

Two months later, members of the Lambs of Christ traveled from all over the country to Fargo and used a variety of ways to disrupt clinic operations, from putting junked cars in the driveway to locking their hands and feet in metal boxes inside the clinic.

Bovard and Kromenaker decided to leave Fargo WHO in 1997, after the clinic was sold and the building fell into disrepair.

Bovard and abortion doctor George Miks then opened the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo in 1998, which gave Fargo a second facility offering abortions for a time. Kromenaker took over as director shortly thereafter.

In 2001, Fargo WHO closed, citing financial reasons, leaving Fargo again with one abortion provider.

The old house off Main where the clinic was located was turned back into a residence, and in May 2018, it was demolished by its new owners, who had a building next door.

Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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