Last June marked a turn in the abortion rights debate in the United States, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision from 1973 that protected a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion.
In response to the court decision, in January, Minnesota became the first state to pass legislation that recognizes abortion as a fundamental human right in the Minnesota Constitution. While it is generally very difficult to change an established law, abortion rights opponents continue to propose measures to curtail access.
According to research done by Pew Research Center in 2022, about six in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. When it comes to Minnesota, opinion held by most people on abortion rights is similar. An online poll conducted by the Star Tribune, MPR News and KARE 11, interviewing 800 Minnesota registered voters between Sept. 12 and Sept. 14, 2022, revealed that more than half of Minnesotans said abortion should be legal in most or all cases.
Following is the much controversial debate from the experience of a local Minnesotan woman who has lived during and after the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In 1969, when Jane* was in college, her roommate Camila* became pregnant. Camila’s boyfriend, also a university student, made the decision for her that she should terminate the pregnancy.
“He found someone, in a back alley in Minneapolis, a person known to perform illegal abortions,” said 71-year-old Jane, who is currently volunteering as a security escort at a health clinic in St. Paul, Minn.
Before the Roe vs. Wade, abortions were considered crimes in most states. Unsafe abortions are still a leading – but preventable – cause of maternal deaths and morbidities globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 45% of all abortions are unsafe.
Soon after the surgery, Camila started hemorrhaging. She recovered, but, never returned to the college. What her roommate went through at the age of 18, left an impact on Jane.
“Her education was interrupted, but her boyfriend, who made the decision on her behalf, finished higher education and graduated with flying colors,” Jane said. “Nothing affected his education.”
Jane has been volunteering for 15 years at the St. Paul location of the Planned Parenthood North Central States, which operates 28 health centers across the five-state region of (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota). In addition to abortion care, Planned Parenthood also provides sexual and reproductive health care, breast/chest examinations, HIV-related tests, fertility awareness education, LGBTQ+ care and treatment for anxiety/depression.
In the United States, federal law trumps state law. When the court overturned the decision, a woman’s right to choose became a state-by-state matter, and many states severely restricted or banned abortion rights. According to the existing regulations, abortion is legal in Minnesota until “viability,” which is the stage of pregnancy when a fetus has developed far enough that it is able to survive outside the uterus with medical help.
However, anti-abortion demonstrations continue to take place, and protesters hold anti-abortion placards with messages like, “don’t murder your baby” and “abortion tortures and kills,” outside clinics.
In their brightly colored signature pink vests, being yelled at is a part of the daily life of a security escort. Clinic escorts like Jane serve as compassionate lines of site and guides to help patients nnavigate tthrough the protesters and find the entrance to check in for their healthcare appointments.
“When I volunteer at Planned Parenthood, I felt that what I did truly mattered and had an impact on the community,” Jane said. “That is why I do what I do.”
Escorts are advised to follow strict policies of non-engagement. They provide patients with comfort and helping them navigate the chaotic environment that exists outside many clinics.
“I don’t engage with the people who are against abortion,” Jane said. “My task is only to make sure men and women who come to the clinic feel safe.”
Many people come to volunteer, thinking they can do this. But it takes a lot of patience to control emotions, stay calm, and continue this volunteer work.”
She described that just like her being the security escort for 15 years, the protesters who come near the clinics also have shifts and schedules. Jane said she hears anti-choice proponents calling out to passersby during her escort shifts, the people who protest make the assumption that everyone who comes into the clinic wants an abortion.
For example, Jane recalled one woman who was driving into the clinic was stopped by an anti-abortion protester. The woman said, “I have cancer and came here to get my tests done.” In return, the protester, who was also a woman, said, “I don’t care. Don’t murder your baby.”
When people thank Jane for being there and helping them feel safe, she responds: “I am glad to help you, but I am sad that I have to.”
Jane*, Camila* – Names have been changed to protect privacy and safety.