FARGO — Anti-abortion sidewalk chalk messages outside the Red River Women's Clinic have become increasingly common this summer, causing some frustration and frequent rebuttals of splashing water.
The steady back-and-forth occurs every Wednesday when anti-abortion protesters flock to downtown with shocking signage of fetuses and are met with calm volunteer escorts in rainbow vests.
Volunteers, nearby businesses and passersby will erase messages like "Superman was adopted" and "strong enough to be a mother." Some bring brooms or buckets of water.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, said the sidewalk chalk used to only appear around 40 Days for Life in September. But this summer is different.
"It’s a new thing," she said. "We’re here for the long haul. People come and go with their ideas."
Anna Brendemuhl, 20, recently moved to the area and has taken to chalking around the clinic, from First Avenue to Fifth Street and parts of Broadway.
"We write down 'life is precious.' I wrote that twice in front of the clinic and the clinic escort washed it off. And so life is precious — they don't agree with that?" she said.
Lance Thorson, owner of adjacent restaurants JL Beers and Vinyl Taco, said the sidewalk chalk was addressed with protesters when it started appearing more frequently in late spring and early summer.
"I don't remember it in years past," he said. "It seems like all of downtown has gotten a lot more of it."
Thorson said ever since that initial conversation, the chalking hasn't been much of an issue outside his businesses. But if chalk happens to appear, he said employees wash it away with water to keep the area presentable for customers and the public.
"This is our storefront and representation of our businesses and our goal is to keep it clean of grease, dirt and chalk," he said.
Thorson said ultimately it causes more work for others to clean up the chalk, whether that's his employees or city works with power washers.
Tom Reagan, an anti-abortion protester, said it's a freedom of speech issue and the messages aren't permanent, but the back-and-forth "does show you that there's tension and disagreement."
"They probably don't want them to see these things (because) if they see them they might change their mind," he said.
But Kromenaker said that isn't the case. Patients heavily think about the personal decision, take work off and arrange childcare to go to appointments, some even driving as far as five or more hours away.
So would a chalk message on the sidewalk change their mind?
“That's really somebody who doesn't understand the deep thinking that I have had the experience in seeing our patients go through,” she said, adding that anyone who thinks otherwise has a "low opinion of women’s moral and ethical reasoning".
She'd rather see people write sidewalk chalk messages and leave, however, than stay and harass patients, she said.