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With new abortion ruling coming soon, protest clashes heighten at Fargo clinic

FARGO-Police here were summoned twice his month to North Dakota's only abortion clinic due to disputes over protests, clashes that come just as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to issue a major new ruling on abortion.Police were called on the morn...

Patient escorts stand alongside abortion protesters outside the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo on June 22, 2016. Special to The Forum
Patient escorts stand alongside abortion protesters outside the Red River Women's Clinic in downtown Fargo on June 22, 2016. Special to The Forum
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FARGO-Police here were summoned twice this month to North Dakota's only abortion clinic due to disputes over protests, clashes that come just as the U.S. Supreme Court is about to issue a major new ruling on abortion.

Police were called on the mornings of June 15 and June 22 to the Red River Women's Clinic at 512 1st Ave. N., after clinic director Tammi Kromenaker said some protesters were trying to prevent patients from entering.

"She was clearly blocking people's entrance," Kromenaker said, in reference to one female protester in particular. "People had to step around her."
Fargo Deputy Police Chief Joe Anderson said officers made no arrests during either of the two incidents. He said an officer reviewed surveillance video and determined a protester was impeding traffic, but not in an egregious enough manner to be arrested.

"They were advised they were in violation," Anderson said. "You can't restrict any pedestrian movements along the sidewalk."

The same action by a protester could have led to an arrest at a different time or if a different officer was on scene, Anderson said.

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"Sometimes it's appropriate to send a message that you need to obey the law," Anderson said.
The protester Kromenaker accused of blocking the clinic's entrance declined an interview request last week.

Both recent run-ins that led to police calls were on a Wednesday. Protests are held outside the clinic regularly on Wednesdays because that's the day abortions are performed at the clinic. Friction is common between protesters and the clinic escorts who shield patients as they enter the building.

Two teenage girls were among the crowd out on the sidewalk Wednesday, June 22. Mary Benton and Elizabeth Anderson, both involved with North Dakota Teens for Life, say they protest to stand up for girls and women.

"I'm almost 17, and I want to let younger girls going in know that they are not alone and that they have other options to pick from," said Benton.

"I think that women deserve a lot more than abortion," Elizabeth Anderson said.

It's not the first time this year police investigated at the clinic. Officials there called police in April about a threatening letter postmarked April 15 from Milwaukee, Wis., which threatened to harm an unnamed doctor. Here are several unedited excerpts:
"Doctor. You have continued to use your murderous ways ... I've be working on the perfect denotator. I'm going to enjoy sending 100s of pecices of sprapnel through you and your people's bodys. Concidered yourself warned no more corespondence will be needed."

Anderson said while a police report was written up, the case is no longer active. Police also conducted a perimeter check of the clinic Wednesday, April, 27. They found nothing, Anderson said.

Kromenaker said the uptick in the number of protesters, letters and emails could be due to an imminent U.S. Supreme Court decision-the first major abortion case to reach the high court in more than 20 years.

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"Anytime something like that is going on, people get abortion on their mind," Kromenaker said. "In Fargo locally, the best way to act out is to be out there."
The justices' ruling on Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt is expected to be announced Monday, June 27 at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and Kromenaker is hoping to be there in the courtroom, along with other independent abortion providers from across the country, when the decision is read.

The case involves a challenge of a Texas law requiring abortion clinics to meet standards of ambulatory surgical centers and for abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to a hospital nearby. The law has caused some abortion clinics there to close.

Kromenaker says the Supreme Court ruling could end up being very specific to Texas or could apply to other states as well.

A similar law was passed in North Dakota in 2013, one of a handful of new anti-abortion regulations lawmakers approved. Clinic officials were concerned it could shut down the Fargo facility, as the three out-of-state doctors who perform abortions there couldn't meet the minimum number of hospital visits to establish admitting privileges at a Fargo hospitals.

Sanford Health eventually credentialed the physicians to have admitting privileges at its Fargo hospital, effectively ending a legal challenge to the law.

Despite the settlement, Kromenaker would like to fight the law.

"If we have an opportunity to repeal, or take a look at the admitting privileges law that was passed in North Dakota (in 2013), we certainly will look at that closely," Kromenaker said.

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