Hundreds attend Fargo rally urging veto of abortion measures
The nation’s eyes turned to North Dakota on Monday as hundreds rallied here and across the state to protest legislation aimed at limiting or banning abortion.
The bills – if they become law – would be the strictest in the nation and have attracted media and activist attention on both sides of the issue from across the country.
In Fargo, hundreds stood in below-freezing temperatures on the Civic Center plaza with signs, chanting and cheering the speakers, which included Thomas Davies, retired Fargo municipal judge and son of famed civil rights-era Judge Ronald N. Davies.
Davies said he believes Gov. Jack Dalrymple is an “honorable man” who understands U.S. Supreme Court decisions are “the law of the land” and should be upheld.
The U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion in the landmark case Roe v. Wade in 1973.
“As my father said in Arkansas, he did what he did because it’s the law, and that’s all that there is to it,” Davies said.
Ronald Davies was an 8th Circuit judge called to Arkansas in August 1957, the beginning years of the civil rights movement, to help with a backlog of federal cases. He’s credited with leading the charge to reaffirm the Supreme Court ruling that desegregated schools.
The bills were sent to Dalrymple on Monday afternoon after the Legislature passed two March 15 and one Friday. The governor has three days to act on the bills and five days to submit them to the Secretary of State’s Office. If Dalrymple does not sign or veto the bills, they become law.
Touring flood-prone areas of Cass County and Fargo with local leaders Monday, the Republican governor declined to say whether he’d sign the bills. He’s made no public statement about his intentions.
“We just have to wait until we get them,” the governor said.
If a bill is vetoed, it is sent back to the chamber it originated in for reconsideration with a written statement by the governor that includes his objections to the bill.
A vetoed bill can become law with an override vote by the Legislature, which requires a two-thirds vote by both the House and Senate.
Based on the original vote counts, House Bill 1456, which outlaws abortion if a heartbeat can be detected, and House Bill 1305, which bans abortions based on gender or genetic abnormality, have enough votes in the House, but not in the Senate. Senate Bill 2305, which adds requirements for the doctors who perform abortions, would not have enough in either chamber to succeed.
After thundering chants of “veto, veto” from the crowd subsided, Davies said swift action should be taken against legislators if they try to override it by a supermajority vote.
“Don’t talk about voting – organize like never before and retire those scofflaws from office,” Davies said.
The crowd responded Monday with loud “boos” at the mention of Republican Fargo Reps. Bette Grande and Al Carlson, who voted for the legislation.
Deb Mathern, of Fargo, announced Monday that she will “come out of retirement” to run in 2014 against Grande.
Mathern served as a state representative in the 1999 and 2001 sessions.
The call to take action against legislators was echoed by Robin Nelson, who led Monday’s rally in Fargo.
“They have had the chance for their voice; now it’s our turn,” Nelson said. “I’m here to tell my legislators that these issues are none of their damn business.”
Nelson, a Fargo School Board member, clarified that her statements were her own and not reflective of the board. The Republican supporter said she is embarrassed by the state’s recent actions.
“One of the reasons I am Republican is because I believe the government has no business in my personal affairs, much less my doctor’s office.”
Carlson called Monday’s rally a “great American right” but said it would not sway his stance on abortion.
“I’ve been there 20 years, and I’ve been consistent in my philosophy of my opinion. I won’t criticize them because they don’t agree,” he said.
Stand Up for Women ND – the group sponsoring the rallies – was formed in response to the abortion-related measures, said Jen Hoy, the creator of the group’s Facebook page. The 30-year-old Fargo resident said the group quickly caught on via social media.
Just shy of 200 “likes” on Friday, the Stand Up for Women ND group garnered more than 2,800 by Monday. More than 800 had RSVP’d to the Fargo rally by Monday.
“The Personhood for all in North Dakota” page, which supports the life-stage amendment, joined Facebook on Feb. 2 and has 2,399 likes.
Like many others in attendance of Fargo’s rally, activist and former Fargo Mayor Jon Lindgren said he has not seen a rally of this size in recent memory.
“Not for a long time. It just was breathtaking to see the voracity of people that came tonight,” Lindgren said.
Across the state
Stand Up for Women ND also sponsored rallies that drew hundreds in Grand Forks, Minot and at the Capitol in Bismarck.
More than 100 people lined the corner of DeMers Avenue and Washington Street in Grand Forks, one of the busiest intersections in the city.
Kristen Garaas-Johnson, who attended with her husband, Craig Garaas-Johnson, said the legislation affects many things other than abortion, including ectopic pregnancies, which can cause the death of a mother and a fetus.
She and her husband have two daughters, she said.
“I don’t want to raise my daughters in a state that does not support women,” she said.
“We are doing this as much for them as anything else,” Craig Garaas-Johnson said.
Marnie Piehl, of Bismarck, said Monday that until now, women and families haven’t been threatened by the Legislature over their right to choose whether to have an abortion.
“They have decided to make it their business, and they don’t know the sleeping giant they have awakened,” she said.
“I am a Republican who believes in less government intrusion in my life,” said Piehl’s mother, Dina Butcher. “Where are the real conservatives when you need them?”
An amended version of Senate Bill 2368, which passed the House on Friday and will be sent back to the Senate, defines life as starting at conception and outlaws an abortion if the fetus is older than 20 weeks.
The bill gained an amendment in the House that would prohibit a state agency, county, school district or institution under the control of the State Board of Higher Education from contracting with, or providing financial or other support, to individuals and organizations performing or counseling in favor of abortion.
The amendment jeopardizes a $1.2 million federal grant awarded to Molly Secor-Turner and Brandy Randall, researchers with North Dakota State University, for a sex ed program in partnership with Planned Parenthood.
Secor-Turner spoke out against the bill at Fargo’s rally along with Dr. Stephanie Dahl, an obstetrician-gynecologist and reproductive medicine specialist in Fargo. Dahl said the latest measures threaten families in North Dakota by prohibiting her from performing certain fertility treatments.
The Legislature also has passed a resolution that will let North Dakota voters decide on a change to the state constitution.
The change would prohibit abortions by adding the language “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected” to the constitution.
Similar measures introduced across the country often are referred to as “personhood” laws.
The North Dakota Medical Association has voiced opposition to both personhood bills.
The amendment will be on the statewide ballot in 2014. The governor’s signature is not required.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530
Forum News Service reporters TJ Jerke, Stephen J. Lee and Erik Burgess contributed to this report.