Abortion ban looms large in Wisconsin and the Dakotas

25 June 2022

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Marcy Thomas and her husband, Scott, opened their church’s doors to a couple of visitors and didn’t hesitate to explain how they felt about the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade and eliminate constitutional protections for abortion.

“I thought it was disgusting,” Marcy Thomas, 57, said as she sat inside the Valleybrook Church in downtown Eau Claire, an old movie theater that now advertises services on its marquee. On Friday, doctors in Wisconsin had immediately stopped providing abortions, viewing a state law making them illegal — on the books since 1849 — as back in place.

Thomas, who with her husband are members and caretakers for the nondenominational church, said she said she doesn’t want judges and legislators “telling me how to make choices for my health or my daughter’s or my granddaughter’s health.”

For nearly a half century, since Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973, the nationwide right to abortion held firm. Friday’s ruling striking it down sparked deep feelings on both sides.

“How after 50 years do you strike it down just like that?” Scott Thomas asked in disbelief. “No one should have a right to decide what a woman’s choice should be.”

For Minnesotans, the right to abortion remains constitutionally protected under a 1995 state Supreme Court ruling. But not in any neighboring states. North and South Dakota are among more than a dozen nationwide where trigger laws were set to make abortion illegal following a high court ruling like the one that came down Friday.

Tammi Kromenaker, the director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, is scrambling to move her independent abortion provider operations across the river to Moorhead, Minn. She worries how abortion opponents will act in the coming days.

“They’re feeling a sense of victory they’ve never felt before,” Kromenaker said. “They may feel emboldened. It’s not business as usual.”

Wisconsin’s 1849 law bans abortion except to save the life of the mother. The 173-year-old ban is likely to face a court challenge.

For Wisconsin’s abortion opponents, the Supreme Court’s ruling was a culmination of their hopes.

“I’m anti-abortion,” said Bill White, 66, of Fall Creek, Wis., as he stood outside the downtown Eau Claire salon where his wife was getting her hair cut. “Women should have rights. I get that. But to kill a child is wrong. It’s a human being from conception.”

“Everyone has their own opinion,” he quickly added.

For Colette Belisle, 39, of Hudson, the ruling is heartbreaking.

“This decision is pro-fetus, not pro-baby,” Belisle said. If political leaders are concerned about babies, more should be done to support them and mothers — support such as generous paid leave and universal day care, she said.

People who choose abortion are often in difficult situations, and forcing women to give birth likely isn’t in the best interest of the baby, she said.

The most recent national polls show that a majority of American adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

A woman getting her hair done in a salon looked straight ahead as she pondered the court’s decision. Sadness washed across her face.

“Did I live too long to have seen this day?” she said. She declined to give her name.

Xin Obaid, who moved from China to Eau Claire 12 years ago, said she was stunned by the court’s decision.

“In China, why we love America so much is that it is a [free] country,” she said. “That’s why we always want to come here.”

How can it be that a woman now doesn’t have control over her own body, she wondered. “In China, you can choose abortion,” Obaid said. “If you want to have a baby, you can. If you don’t, you have control of that.”

Irina Shimko, 52, of Hudson, who aligns with libertarian ideologies, agrees that people should be allowed to make their own choices when it comes to their bodies.

“But giving [the abortion decision] back to the states is fine. It’s not a big deal. If you can’t get an abortion in Wisconsin, you can go to Minnesota,” she said. “If it was no way, nowhere, that would be too extreme.”

Across the riverfront park, Elaine Magstadt, 67, of River Falls said government and the courts should never have gotten involved in the abortion issue.

“I used to be anti-abortion,” she said. “I’m a strong Christian. But I came to learn this is a choice, and it shouldn’t be taken away. People can make their choices and answer to God.

“It’s like a little crazy out there,” she said. “They’re regulating the wrong things. … We have too many guns out there.”

Meanwhile, some worry the reversal of Roe v. Wade could lead the courts to overturn same-sex marriage and contraception.

“We certainly have a very conservative Supreme Court that’s not a reflection of a majority of the people in this country,” said James Hanke, 50.

The answer is simple, Hanke said.

“If people are disappointed, the solution is at the ballot box,” he said. “I hope for my daughter’s sake and her daughter’s sake that people wake up and get to the polls. Hopefully this has inspired them that politics can affect their daily lives.”

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