Huge crowds march in St. Paul over abortion rights

People hold signs and yell during a rally outside.
People chant during an abortion rights march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol on Sunday.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Crowds marched through the heat in St. Paul Sunday over abortion access, in response the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The event, organized by UnRestrict Minnesota and other groups, had thousands of attendees. In a press release, organizers said more than 10,000 people came to the rally, while the State Patrol on Twitter estimated a crowd closer to 5,000.

“This is just a very important issue for so many people, and so many uterus-havers across the country,” said 26-year-old Ela Engen, who came out with friends from the Twin Cities.

While abortion will remain legal in Minnesota, due to the 1995 state Supreme Court decision Doe v. Gomez — and many restrictions around the practice were recently ruled unconstitutional — the state is expected to see an influx of patients coming from other states to seek care.

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That’s concerning for some health care workers, including nurse April Brigham, who said after experiencing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many workers are burned out.

“It’s a little scary, just because we want to make sure we have access for everybody to have that care,” Brigham said. “We’re already taxed to the max for health care right now.”

Marching from Saint Paul College to the state Capitol, demonstrators shouted “my body, my choice” and carried signs that read “we won’t go back.”

Once at the Capitol, several speakers impressed upon the crowd that while the right to have an abortion remains in Minnesota, the fight is not over yet.

People speak during a large rally outside.
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar condemns efforts to strip away citizens’ autonomy during an abortion rights march and protest at the Minnesota State Capitol.
Tim Evans for MPR News

“We are lucky abortion remains legal in Minnesota. In fact, we are surrounded by states where abortion is now illegal or will be soon,” said U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. “Let me be clear, just like in Congress, they can go away in the blink of an eye.”

“So if you don't want to go back to a time when old, ultra-conservative white men decide what you do with your body. You have to fight back with us,” she continued.

Omar also went on to link the fight for abortion with access to birth control and LGBTQ rights, particularly trans rights and the right to marry.

Other speakers at the event included Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan and Attorney General Keith Ellison, as well as members of the state’s congressional Reproductive Freedom Caucus.

In a statement ahead of the rally, Scott Fischbach, executive director of the anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, alleged that the organizers of the rally “oppose even the most reasonable and modest abortion policies,” including those recently struck down as unconstitutional, and said the state can “do better to support and empower women and to value and protect children.”

Additionally, advocates also announced a new campaign Sunday to push the city of Minneapolis to provide direct funding for abortion access. According to a press release, groups Our Justice and Pro-Choice Minnesota, as well as some city council members, are calling on Mayor Jacob Frey to directly invest “in community networks providing abortion funding and practical support in his upcoming proposed budget.”

“The Mayor’s office is currently working with local jurisdictions like Hennepin County and partner organizations like Planned Parenthood to identify the best ways to maximize our impact — both through policy and investment — and ensure that Minneapolis continues to be a safe haven for those seeking an abortion,” said Katie Lauer, press secretary with the Mayor’s office, in a statement. “If Council Members would like to be part of this work, we would welcome their assistance.”