State-level abortion conversations mean local efforts hold new weight
After the Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade, abortion issues now are rolling through state legislatures. It's prompting new efforts on the local level to have voices heard.
FOSSTON, Minn. – A northwest Minnesota chapter of the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life is holding a March for Life event in Fosston on Saturday, Jan. 28. A similar march was held in Bemidji, about 45 miles away, on Jan. 22.
Organizers say that with abortion issues being discussed so much at the state and national level, action is more important than ever.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned its previous ruling in Roe v. Wade. Now, it's up to residents of states to advocate for the changes they want to see politically regarding abortion, says Mike Brouse, president of Minnesota Citizens for Life Chapter 45.
“That has put a greater responsibility on those of us that are pro-life as individuals to number one, express our support, and number two, to do what we can to see that our state adopts a pro-life position,” said Brouse.
The march in Bemidji, about 45 miles away from Fosston, was one of many March for Life events held across the country on Sunday, the 50th anniversary of the passing of Roe v. Wade. MCCL held a large march at the Minnesota Capitol and the national March for Life organization gathered in Washington, D.C.
Crookston also has been the site of March for Life events in the past. In March of 2021 and 2022, anti-abortion group Teens For Life organized March for Life events in there. In years past, there has also been a march in Bagley, which is between Fosston and Bemidji.
Eileen Hegg, an MCCL member from McIntosh, says MCCL Chapter 45 decided to plan a march in Fosston because there was no march in Bagley this year. The chapter includes much of Polk and Clearwater counties, including towns like Fosston, Erskine, McIntosh, Lengby and Oklee. While some members of Chapter 45 attended the march in Bemidji last week, the hour-plus drive for others is too long, said Hegg. Fosston is a more central location.
Hegg says the chapter has approximately 150 members on its mailing list and some 30 active members that attend meetings each month.
While abortion is protected judicially in Minnesota and Democratic lawmakers in the state are working to protect it legislatively, Brouse says marching shows a commitment to the anti-abortion cause.
“This is not a state that is particularly amenable to a pro-life agenda by any means, but people here have persevered. They, among other things, prayed over the last 40 or 50 years for Roe versus Wade to be overturned and that finally came to pass,” Brouse said. “I think that by marching, they demonstrate that continuing faith or hope that things politically will change here in Minnesota eventually.”
In Minnesota, abortion is protected under a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling. With Democrats holding both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office this session, some state lawmakers are working to boost existing constitutional protections for abortion with the Protect Reproductive Options Act, or PRO Act. Approved in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Jan. 19, the bill would protect the right for an individual to make decisions about their own reproductive health in state law. The bill would also prevent local governments from regulating birth control and abortion.
Opponents of the PRO Act worry about its lack of language restricting abortions in later stages of pregnancy, and have tried, unsuccessfully, to amend it to create restrictions, including a ban on abortions during the third trimester. At present, Minnesota law bans abortion after viability, when a fetus could survive outside of the womb, usually around 24 weeks. The PRO Act does not address viability.
For anti-abortion groups in Minnesota, the goal is to see the Legislature enact legislation that is “pro-life favorable,” said Brouse. While he says a full ban on abortion in Minnesota is unlikely, those against abortion can advocate for other policy changes.
In neighboring North Dakota, the state’s only abortion clinic left the state after the Supreme Court's June decision. The Red River Women’s Clinic, formerly in Fargo, is now in Moorhead, Minnesota. A 2007 abortion ban triggered by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has temporarily been blocked by a judge in Bismarck because of a lawsuit by the Red River Women’s Clinic against the state of North Dakota.
In the North Dakota Legislature, a number of bills addressing abortion have been introduced.
Senate Bill 2150 would reconcile differences between the abortion ban and another state law that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as well as provide exceptions to the ban in cases of rape, incest and saving the life of the mother. Senate Bill 2129, would provide $1.6 million for creating an alternatives-to-abortion program to support private organizations that encourage childbirth instead of abortion for pregnant women. Senate Bill 2195 would provide $4 million to pregnancy resource services.
Amy Jacobson, executive director of Prairie Action ND, says anti-choice lobbyists are using the first legislative session after the U.S. Supreme Court's June decision as a money grab opportunity. Prairie Action ND is an organization that works to provide a balance in North Dakota politics.
“Right now, very emboldened anti-choice activists are seeking nearly $6 million to line their pockets in a state where we don’t even have access to abortion care,” she said.
As an abortion-rights proponent in a conservative state, Prairie Action ND combats anti-abortion policy by organizing opportunities for residents of the state to speak out against anti-abortion laws collectively. The organization also works with partner entities to ensure people in North Dakota have access to reproductive health care.
With abortion issues being discussed at the state level, Brouse hopes others who are against abortion know they can have an impact.
“I would hope that that is motivation that brings people out to express their pro-life opinion through marches,” said Brouse.
The March for Life in Fosston starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Jan 28, in the parking lot of the original Palubicki’s Foods, next to Hugo’s Family Marketplace. Hegg says the march will work its way through downtown Fosston to New Journey Church.