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Northlanders rally for abortion rights in Duluth

A sizeable crowd turned out at Duluth City Hall demanding continued access to the procedure.

People listening and applauding during a protest
People listen and applaud during a pro-choice protest in front of Duluth City Hall on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Abortion will remain legal in Minnesota in the near future, but activists say they will need to fight to preserve that right in the state long-term.

With the U.S. Supreme Court poised to strike down Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks, more than 100 people gathered outside Duluth City Hall on Saturday for a fiery rally and call to action in support of abortion access.

Woman speaks during a protest
Dr. Mary Owen speaks while standing at the top of the steps in front of Duluth City Hall during a pro-choice protest on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"We want free abortion, on demand, without apology," Dr. Mary Owen told the crowd. "Free because abortion is health care, and health care should be free. On demand because when you need an abortion, you need it now. And without apology because there is nothing to apologize for."

Health care professionals, legislators, faith leaders and other activists organized the rally in wake of this month's leak of a high court draft opinion that showed conservative justices voting to overturn the right-to-privacy precedent established in 1973.

Man holds sign while listening to a speaker at a protest
Wayne Pulford, of Proctor, holds up a sign that reads "Unapologetically Pro-Abortion" while listening to Rev. Jim Mitulski of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth speak during a pro-choice protest in front of Duluth City Hall on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"I will continue to show up because no one — and especially not five Supreme Court justices, or the slew of usual anti-abortion extremists — will stop us from accessing health care," said Ollie Morris, who volunteers as an escort at the region's only abortion provider, WE Health Clinic, in downtown Duluth.

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Woman holds sign at a protest
Nancy Grace, of Duluth, holds up a sign that reads "Do you want to pay child support" during a pro-choice protest in front of Duluth City Hall on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Paulina Briggs, a lab technician at the clinic, said Minnesota stands to see a 371% increase in demand for abortions, as the state will become an island of legal access in the upper Midwest. She said staff has seen "tremendously heartening and uplifting" support in recent days, but the clinic may soon need to significantly boost its staffing, hours, supplies and outreach to meet future demand.

"One of the most frustrating parts about this is that we are the pro-choice pro-abortion majority," she said. "The majority of Americans agree that abortion should be legal. This decision does not reflect what Americans want for their country's future."

The Rev. Jim Mitulski, of Peace United Church of Christ, said the abortion issue is often framed by religious beliefs. But he said it's inaccurate to assume that most or all people of faith are opposed to the procedure.

Man speaks during a protest
Rev. Jim Mitulski of Peace United Church of Christ in Duluth speaks at the top of the steps of Duluth City Hall during a pro-choice protest on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"This is too serious to let the so-called religious people one more time to dominate the discourse," Mitulski said. "I thank God and I thank Goddess for the right to choose and for the right to abortion, and we have got to speak up in our religious assemblies. ... Speak up. Stand up. Say the word 'abortion.' Say the word 'contraception.' Say the word 'birth control.' Say the word 'condom.' Say these words in places where people are uncomfortable before they become illegal."

WE Health Clinic, the only abortion provider in northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, could become more in demand for out-of-state patients.

State Reps. Liz Olson and Jennifer Schultz, both DFL-Duluth, spoke at the rally — nothing that the state Senate is controlled by Republicans and not even the DFL-controlled House currently has a majority willing to codify abortion access.

"We know that if we're complacent, things change," Olson said. "We've been seeing these waiting periods, we've seen the medically dubious information that doctors are forced to share, we've seen the bills to add onerous license restrictions — all of that has (been introduced in the Legislature) right here in our own state."

Duluth NAACP President Classie Dudley urged attendees to go beyond simply attending a rally. She said activists need to “fight for our lives” at every level of government, forcing the issue in places where they may not feel welcomed or comfortable.

A man holds up a sign during a protest
Wayne Pulford, of Proctor, holds up a sign that reads "Abortion Is Healthcare" during a pro-choice protest in front of Duluth City Hall on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

"It's lovely to see you here on a nice (Saturday) afternoon. But show up on Monday night when you're tired after work, after you’ve had dinner and you want to go to bed. Because you know who is depending on it? These people who need abortion rights, these people who are looking for housing, these people who are living in poverty, these people who are living in pain. Because it's the 1% that is keeping us down and until we unite they are going to keep doing this work against us.”

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Maggie Meyer, executive director of Pro-Choice Minnesota, said abortion should be “safe, legal and accessible” and that there “should be as many abortions as people need.”

“I know we're all really tired,” she said. “But I want you to keep up this outrage. Remember this feeling when the decision comes out.”

People gather at Duluth City Hall for a protest
The crowd listens as Ollie Morris, lead clinic escort/recovery room assistant with the WE Health Clinic, speaks at the top of the steps in front of Duluth City Hall during a pro-choice protest on Saturday,
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune
People gathered for a protest listen to a speaker
People listen while Ollie Morris, lead clinic escort/recovery room assistant with the WE Health Clinic, speaks at the top of the steps in front of Duluth City Hall during a pro-choice protest on Saturday.
Dan Williamson / Duluth News Tribune

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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