Longtime protesters and escorts stand firm at North Dakota's only abortion clinic

Protesters and patient escorts have been a regular sight in front of the Red River Women's Clinic for years in downtown Fargo, but that could change after a leaked draft opinion suggested that U.S. Supreme Court Justices have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Protesters kneel outside the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota's only abortion provider, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
Protesters kneel outside the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota's only abortion provider, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum
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FARGO — For decades, protesters and patient escorts have stood their ground on the sidewalk outside of the Red River Women’s Clinic, the only abortion provider in North Dakota.

Rain or shine, winter and summer, and usually every Wednesday, the day abortions are done, protesters carry signs, pray, kneel on the cement, and attempt to offer women an option out of the procedure.

Escorts in colorful vests are there to help patients in and out of the downtown Fargo clinic.

Usually, the two sides are quiet, but the atmosphere is always tense. On Wednesday, May 4, the air was especially volatile as at least two patients entered the clinic before 10 a.m.

Uncertainty was also in the air with the clinic's future being called into question by Monday's Politico report on a leaked draft opinion suggesting that a majority of Supreme Court justices have voted to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that forms the groundwork for legal abortions in the U.S.


Quin Overland, an escort at the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.jpg
Quin Overland, a patient escort at the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Quin Overland is an escort who's volunteered at the clinic since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. She said most of her interactions on the sidewalk are civil, but there have been moments of discord.

“We’ve been called 'Satan’s secretaries,' 'deathscorts,' and 'maidens of murder,'” she said.

“Some people scream at me, and other people who aren’t regulars have threatened me. It’s usually friendly on the corner and hostile at the door,” said Overland, who believes women “deserve the right to have autonomy over their bodies.”

Makenzie Smith, of Fargo, has been protesting at the clinic for the past year. She too has been threatened, sometimes by escorts, sometimes by passersby, she said.

“I’m here to give a voice to the people that don’t have a voice,” Smith said. “But everything is so polarized, which makes it so you can’t even have a conversation. When someone is screaming at me from the other side it just makes you harden.”

Sometimes, she kneels on the pavement, which is painful. “But there is something powerful about being on your knees before an all powerful God and asking for mercy,” Smith said.

Makenzie Smith, of Fargo, protesting abortion in front of the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.jpg
Makenzie Smith, of Fargo, protests against abortion outside the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
C.S. Hagen/TheForum

Doug VanderMeulen, of Fargo, has been protesting for 18 of the past 24 years the clinic has been operating.

“It was when I learned about what abortion does to the mother when I began to protest. A high percentage end up in a very high self destructive behavior. There is nothing pro-women about abortion,” VanderMeulen said.


He believes the leaked draft opinion was manipulative, and an attempt to derail democracy.

“A lot will happen between now and the end of June. The leak was clearly meant to influence the judges and for Congress to codify Roe v. Wade,” VanderMeulen said.

He said his experience with patient escorts has been mainly civil.

“We will always have a difference on perceptions on every issue there is, but to be able to talk about it and not just refute is somehow lost,” VanderMeulen said.

If the Supreme Court does overturn Roe, North Dakota has a "trigger" law that would ban abortion within 30 days. Also, Congress could pass legislation to make abortion legal or illegal across the whole country.

North Dakota's trigger law would make it a Class C felony for anyone to perform an abortion, unless a pregnant female performs an abortion on herself. A Class C felony is punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic, has said the clinic has a contingency plan to move to Moorhead, where Minnesota officials are expected to continue to permit abortions if Roe is dismantled.

Another abortion protester, Dave Foerster, also of Fargo, began protesting in 1973, but became more involved as he neared retirement age. He said he has missed only one Wednesday when it was 32 degrees below zero.


When a patient comes to the clinic door, Foerster and other protesters have about 10 seconds to try to dissuade the woman not to go through with an abortion, he said.

For Foerster, the leaked draft opinion is a good thing.

“That's what we were praying for, and it will change much for us on the sidewalk, and we will go across the river.”

Dave Foerster, from Fargo, on Wednesday, May 4, 2022, has been protesting for nine years in front of the Red River Women's Clinic.jpg
Dave Foerster, from Fargo, is seen Wednesday, May 4, 2022. He's been protesting for nine years outside the Red River Women's Clinic.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Margaret McKenzie, of Fargo, has volunteered as a patient escort when she can for the past eight years.

“A person’s right to decide when to have children is a paramount right,” said McKenzie, who said her parents come help at the clinic when they can.

The leaked draft opinion wasn't a surprise to McKenzie, who's been following Supreme Court appointees since President George W. Bush appointed John Roberts Jr. as chief justice in 2005.

“People who are shocked at this information have not been paying attention,” McKenzie said. “If abortion access is restricted, we will see devastating consequences.”

She doesn’t butt heads with protesters. She remains quiet.

“We are all here for the same reason," McKenzie said of escorts and protesters, "and they try to relate to us, but they’re just straight up wrong."

Margaret McKenzie, an escort at the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.jpg
Margaret McKenzie, a patient escort, stands outside the Red River Women's Clinic on Wednesday, May 4, 2022.
C.S. Hagen/The Forum

Kromenaker took pride on Tuesday when abortion rights advocates gathered at Fargo's federal courthouse to voice their opinions against the U.S. Supreme Court's possible decision.

“It was great to see the rally at the courthouse last night. It’s great that people are willing to take to the streets and let their voices be heard. I certainly want that to be sustained, my fear is that people’s outrage will wane, and we need to keep the momentum. We’re seeing patients today, that’s our No. 1 priority at Red River Women’s Clinic,” Kromenaker said.

If the clinic moves across the Red River to Moorhead, then Smith, VanderMeulen, Foerster and others will follow to renew the protests at the new location.

“Minnesota has every right to decide what it wants to do, and I’d rather it not be the government, but the people, who make that decision. God’s will is the ultimate law,” said VanderMeulen, who supports states' rights in laws regarding abortion. “My desire is that no one will abort a child in any state."

C.S. Hagen is an award-winning journalist currently covering the education and activist beats mainly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
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