FARGO - Sarah Haeder began protesting outside abortion clinics when she was in third grade.
Haeder, 41, of Moorhead, grew up in Emery, S.D., a small town of just over 400 people located 25 miles southeast of Mitchell, and was raised in a family she described as “devout Roman Catholics.”
Haeder’s anti-abortion roots were instilled in her by her grandparents, who, Haeder said, “played a key role in my upbringing.”
During the summer months of third and fourth grade, Haeder tagged along with her grandparents as they traveled to abortion clinics throughout the Midwest to protest. Several instances in Fargo, she said, stood out the most. At that time, the clinic was called the Fargo Women’s Health Organization. The two-story building off Main Avenue was demolished earlier this year after it was purchased by a next-door property owner who wanted to make way for more parking.
“The times that I came to Fargo, we’d just have the red tape over our mouth that said ‘life,’ and we just had to stand there as small little children,” Haeder said.
In what she called a “pivotal moment in her life,” Haeder had a sudden change of heart in 1996 after helping her then-19-year-old friend through the pregnancy process.
“That was the first time I had really thought about what it meant to be a woman and to have a choice,” she said.
Now, instead of wearing red tape over her mouth and standing outside North Dakota’s only women’s clinic, Haeder is inside working as a registered nurse, assisting women as they face one of the most difficult decisions they’ll ever make.
Her story has been featured on a national level twice.
Most recently, a crew from NBC Left Field, a subset of NBC News that creates short, creative documentaries, came to Fargo in mid-September to hear Haeder’s story, which they read about in the May 2018 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.
Haeder said executive producers with NBC Left Field were seeking to put a face to the abortion debate in not just North Dakota, but the country. She said the recent nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has sparked nationwide discussions about Roe v. Wade, a landmark decision issued by the Supreme Court in 1973 that decriminalized abortions.
North Dakota is one of four states in the country that has a trigger law, which would automatically ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were to ever be overturned. South Dakota, Louisiana and Mississippi are the only other states that have a trigger law.
After becoming pregnant in her mid-20s, Haeder found herself inside the Fargo Red River Women’s Clinic she now works in. She was receiving an abortion.
“I had no regrets, and I immediately wanted to know how I could work here,” Haeder told NBC Left Field.
Following her abortion, Haeder quit her full-time corporate job in marketing and administration in 2008 to work one day a week at the Fargo women’s clinic, a role she said she was called to be in because of her own experience. She started out at the clinic as a patient educator, and eventually moved into the clinic manager role. Seeking to care more for her patients, Haeder went back to school to get her nursing degree, and she is now a registered nurse.
“I knew I would no longer be satisfied with pushing papers and making some old white man more money,” Haeder said. “I wanted to help women who found themselves in the same situation I found myself in.
“When you have no resources, it’s a scary place to be. No woman deserves to go through this alone.”
Each Wednesday, anti-abortion protesters can be seen picketing outside the Fargo women’s clinic, hoping to persuade women not to enter the clinic to end their pregnancy. Women planning on entering the clinic have to be escorted by a group of volunteers as they make their way through the groups of protesters. Haeder said that what the protesters refuse to see is that the women coming to the Red River Women’s Clinic deserve their respect and love during a vulnerable time in their lives and calls their actions “inappropriate.”
“Approaching women on the sidewalk outside of the women’s clinic is the most inappropriate place to try and influence a woman’s decision,” Haeder said. “Jesus would never shame women.”
Haeder, who also works as a registered nurse at Planned Parenthood in Moorhead, said she hears from her patients everyday that “those people outside” empower her patients to feel good about making the decision to terminate their pregnancy.
“It’s disrespectful, tantamount to harassment and not only makes the woman feel threatened and judged, but it actually makes them really angry,” she said.
The only way to reduce abortions, Haeder said, is through education and contraception, a conclusion she came to after experiencing life on both sides of the abortion debate.
“If you choose to decide that in your life, sex education and contraception education have no place, then that is your choice and that is a freedom we are allowed to have in the USA,” said Haeder. “However, you cannot make me practice what you believe … religious freedom does not equate to Christian freedom.”
To this day, Haeder said she has never discussed her decision to have an abortion with her family.
Upon hearing about her career choice, Haeder’s grandmother, who used to spend her summers traveling throughout the Midwest to protest outside abortion clinics, was not fond of her granddaughter’s decision.
“Every single time I had any interaction with my grandma, the first thing she would say is ‘what about all the babies?’” Haeder told NBC Left Field.
Her decision came with ramifications, but for Haeder, her calling in life outweighed anything else.
“The women who come to the clinic need me,” she told NBC Left Field. “So I was definitely willing to make that sacrifice.”
Haeder’s grandmother now has Alzheimer’s. As awful as the disease is, her grandmother’s loss of memory now means that Haeder is able to once again have normal conversations with the woman she grew up loving so much.
Any mention of abortion is simply a thing of the past.