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'We won't go back': Dozens rally in support of abortion rights in Bemidji

Around 100 people gathered to support abortion rights in downtown Bemidji on Saturday, June 25, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade the day prior.

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A group from Planned Parenthood in Bemidji hold up signs during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer
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BEMIDJI — Across the country supporters of abortion rights took to the streets over the weekend to denounce the overturning of the landmark case Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, including around 100 people who gathered to demonstrate in Bemidji.

On the afternoon of June 25, motorists driving past Paul Bunyan Park in downtown Bemidji saw a long line of people stretched along the road, many holding signs that showed their support for the right to access abortion.

“I feel angry, I don’t want anybody to make decisions for me about my body,” said Rachel Munson, who attended the rally. “I really just wanted to stand in solidarity with our community.”

Prompted by the news on June 24 that the Supreme Court had overturned Roe v. Wade, a landmark case establishing a right to abortion decided in 1973, the rally was organized in just one day.

Materials to make signs were provided at the event and people offering water made their way down the line as each demonstrator held their signs and encouraged passing vehicles to honk their horns in solidarity.

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Anna Plumb works on a sign ahead of an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

“It’s really unfortunate to roll back a policy that has been in place for 50 years,” said Jen Schultz. “This is something my mother fought for and she’s hugely disappointed to see this.”

Schultz is currently running for U.S. Congress to represent Minnesota’s 8th District and happened to be in Bemidji when she heard about the rally.

“Elections have consequences, we put people on the Supreme Court that don’t represent the majority of Americans,” Schultz said. “Hopefully this will bring people to the polls.”

This was the second demonstration in support of abortion rights held in Bemidji in recent months, the first was held in May after a draft opinion was leaked that showed the court’s intention to overturn the ruling.

Since that first rally in May, Pastor Melody Kirkpatrick has been sitting in Paul Bunyan Park with her sign reading "We won't go back" nearly every day.

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Pastor Melody Kirkpatrick, left, sits with signs along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

On some days a counter-demonstrator also set up with an anti-abortion sign, something Kirkpatrick respected even if she didn't agree.

"People are angry on both sides," she said. "He has a right to be here even if I don't agree with him."

After hearing about the Supreme Court's decision, Kirkpatrick also attended Saturday’s demonstration.

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“I think (those on the Supreme Court) are cowards,” Kirkpatrick said. “They put (the opinion) out on a Friday, they just put it out there and ran away.”

For Kirkpatrick, the Supreme Court’s decision is about more than just abortion rights, it’s about women’s rights and an individual’s right to self-determination.

“I think it goes beyond abortion rights, to me it's power and control over women,” Kirkpatrick explained. “It’s just a whole control issue. Don’t tell me what to do with my body.”

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Participants hold up signs along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants line up along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

Abortion in Minnesota

Even with the Supreme Court’s decision, abortion remains legal in Minnesota since a case in 1995 decided that a right to abortion was protected in the state’s constitution.

However, Minnesota may soon become the only state in the region where abortion remains legal or accessible.

Both North and South Dakota have bans that have or will soon come into effect due to trigger laws that were designed to take effect if Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Wisconsin has an old law banning abortion that was never removed from the books which could once again be enforced, and Iowa’s Supreme Court recently decided that the right to abortion was not protected in the state’s constitution.

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Joel Ward holds up signs along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

If abortion is banned or restricted in Minnesota’s neighboring states it could lead to their residents traveling to Minnesota to seek the procedure.

“Our clinics are going to be overwhelmed as people come to them from out of state,” Schultz said. “It’s an equity issue. This is going to affect low-income individuals and people of color. Wealthy people can afford to travel, people who don’t have the means cannot.”

Some of the attendees at Bemidji’s rally were old enough to remember what it was like before the right to abortion was established nationwide.

“I remember the days when abortion was illegal, it was a trauma for young women,” a rally participant named Mary mentioned.

She shared how the homecoming queen her freshman year of college later died from an illegal abortion, and how she’s afraid stories like that will return if abortion is made illegal.

“People say that won’t happen, but I don’t think it’s that far away,” she added.

While those at the rally knew that their right to abortion still stood, part of the demonstration’s purpose was to stand in solidarity with those in other states where that’s no longer the case.

“I just think that anybody with a uterus should be able to make a decision about whether or not they have a child,” Munson said. “I want to encourage our nation, really just encourage our world to do better for women.”

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Nancy Schmidt, left, and Jamie Listebarger hold up signs along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer
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Participants line up along Paul Bunyan Drive during an abortion-rights rally on Saturday, June 25, 2022, in front of Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji.
Nicole Ronchetti / Bemidji Pioneer

Nicole Ronchetti is a reporter at the Bemidji Pioneer, focusing on local government and community health.
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