FARGO, North Dakota. North Dakota’s only abortion clinic will move from Fargo to Moorhead, Minnesota, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Friday to strike down Roe v. Wade, returning the issue of abortion to the state legislature.
When the Red River Women’s Clinic moves, it will mean that for the first time in over 40 years, there will be no abortion facility in North Dakota.
Clinic director Tammy Kromenaker said that while she knew the decision would come due to a draft report leaked in May, it was still “devastating.”
“Unreal. Incredible,” Kromenaker said in an interview from the clinic. “It’s vicious. But to see it become a reality is still a shock.”
Jane Boward, who opened the state’s first abortion clinic in Fargo in 1981 and later founded the RRWC in 1998, said she fought lawmakers for years to keep abortions going, and despite their efforts, the clinic still able to provide services.
“It’s just really sad,” Boward said from her home in Stillwater, Minnesota, “we’re definitely going backwards.”
The court’s decision prompted a 2007 “push” law that is expected to ban abortion in North Dakota 30 days after the state’s attorney general reviews the matter. South Dakota has a similar law. The ordinance has no effect in Minnesota, where there is no such law.
The sidewalk in front of a clinic in downtown Fargo is often the site of anti-abortion protests, but it was quiet on Friday after the court’s decision was announced.
In addition, Kromenaker said that they have purchased premises for a clinic in Moorhead, but are not yet ready to disclose its location.
“Right now, we are focused on making sure our patients know that abortion is still legal in North Dakota,” she said, referring to the period before the ban went into effect, and said the goal is to ensure almost complete no service interruptions.
“Even if there is a week when we cannot see patients, it will still be a better scenario than any other option,” Kromenaker said.
The GoFundMe site, set up Thursday to raise money for renovations and furniture at a new building in Moorhead, topped $200,000 of a $250,000 target by 4:30 pm Friday.
Kromenaker said the cash support and emails from people offering to escort patients to the clinic are huge, but not surprising.
“We know that the vast majority of people support the right to abortion, and so those who can put their money into the cause,” she said.
Kromenaker said she would mourn the loss of the clinic in North Dakota.
“While we may no longer be located within North Dakota, the Red River Women’s Clinic and the services our community relies on will remain here,” she said.
Sarah Stoes, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, said their organization would consider providing abortion services across the border from North Dakota if Red River Women’s Clinic does not.
Stoes said that if the RRWC opened a clinic in Moorhead, Planned Parenthood would welcome them. If not, they will intervene and provide services, she said.
Christopher Dodson, executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference, said their organization is very pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision as it addresses an injustice in the law that has prevented states from creating “safe havens for life.”
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 in,” he said. “Similarly, the other side needs to understand that the majority of people in the community really care about women and their rights. They just also want to protect this unborn child.”
Dodson said that now, with the ruling passed, the state should at least double the funding for its abortion alternatives program and expand it to include more women and children.
Boward said the Red River Women’s Clinic’s name, given more than 20 years ago, was of strategic importance.
If abortion becomes illegal in North Dakota, she says, she will have the option to move across the river and keep her name and identity.
Before any abortion facility opened in the state, two doctors from North Dakota performed abortions as part of their OB/GYN practice, Dr. Robert Lucey in Jamestown and Dr. Richard Lee in Grand Forks, Boward said. Both have since died.
Boward said she wanted to offer women more comprehensive abortion care, including counseling and support services, so in October 1981 she opened an abortion clinic, briefly named the North Dakota Women’s Health Organization, before becoming the Fargo Women’s Health Organization.
She hired Kromenacker as her assistant at the clinic, located in a two-story house on Main Avenue.
The clinic was the scene of intense anti-abortion protests and the target of break-ins and firebombs in the early 1990s.
In March 1991, about two dozen anti-abortion protesters broke into the clinic and tied each other around their necks with kryptonite bicycle locks.
Two months later, members of the Lambs of Christ came from across the country to Fargo and used a variety of methods to disrupt the clinic, from leaving decommissioned cars in the driveway to locking arms and legs in metal boxes inside the clinic.
Boward and Kromenaker decided to leave WHO Fargo in 1997 after the clinic was sold and the building fell into disrepair.
Then in 1998, Boward and abortion physician George Meeks opened the Red River Women’s Clinic in downtown Fargo, giving Fargo a second facility offering abortion for a time. Shortly thereafter, Kromenaker took over as director.
In 2001, Fargo WHO closed for financial reasons, leaving Fargo once again with one abortion provider.