North Dakota abortion clinic prepares for likely final day

A downtown street.
The Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, North Dakota, is shown on July 7, nearly two weeks after the Supreme Court overturned the Roe vs. Wade court decision allowing states to determine how to regulate abortion.
Matt Mikus | MPR News

North Dakota’s only abortion clinic is preparing for what could be its final day of performing procedures, with a trigger ban due to take effect Thursday that will likely force patients to travel hundreds of miles to receive care pending the clinic’s relocation across the border to Minnesota.

Barring a judge’s intervention, the Red River Women’s Clinic will provide abortion services Wednesday then shut down. Owner Tammi Kromenaker is building a new clinic in Moorhead, Minnesota, with the aid of nearly $1 million raised through GoFundMe.

Kromenaker has not said when the new clinic will open and she did not respond to messages Tuesday. Planned Parenthood has said it can perform abortions at its own Moorhead facility to fill the gap if needed, but it is not clear if that will happen.

Once North Dakota’s ban takes effect, the nearest abortion clinics will be in Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, a drive of about four hours from Fargo, and in Billings, Montana, which is nearly four hours from North Dakota’s western border.

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Destini Spaeth, the volunteer leader of an independent group that helps fund abortions in North Dakota, is investigating temporary solutions until the Moorhead clinic opens. That could include helping to pay for trips to Minnesota and Montana.

“To have to cross state lines and to be treated like and spoken about like a criminal in your home state and forced to travel elsewhere, pleading for care, desperate for care,” said Spaeth, spokeswoman for the North Dakota Women In Need fund. “It’s got to be just so traumatic.”

Kristi Wolff, executive director of the North Dakota Women’s Network, said the women’s advocacy group still refers people to the Red River Women’s Clinic or to a physician “if that’s what’s needed.” Wolff said she has fielded numerous calls from women showing “a lot of uncertainty and despair and anger” about what’s in store.

“If there is no clinic operating within North Dakota, women will have to travel farther,” Wolff said. “In order to do that, they have to have the resources for adequate transportation, you know, gas money, child care, time off work, they need all those things. To have to do that just get to health care, that’s unacceptable.”

The clinic is suing in state court to block the trigger law, which was passed years ago to take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade precedent establishing a right to abortion. The lawsuit argues that a ban would be contrary to the state constitution. It also argues that Attorney General Drew Wrigley prematurely started the 30-day countdown for the law to take effect.

“I’m not holding my breath for an injunction,” Spaeth said. “I think we’re preparing for tomorrow to be the last clinic day in North Dakota for a while.”

The first abortion clinic in Fargo opened in 1981, in a two-story house that was more than 70 years old. It was the site of intense protests in the early 1990s sparked by a national group that locked themselves to cars, trees, street signs and other objects. The clinic moved to its current location in downtown Fargo in 1998.

While the move to Moorhead will add a couple of miles for patients from the Dakotas, it will also mean that the weekly group of anti-abortion protesters won’t be traveling much further. Some of them have called Wednesday’s planned Fargo finale bittersweet and said they will resume their posts when the new clinic opens.

McKenzie McCoy, executive director of North Dakota Right To Life, said she’s “overjoyed the clinic is closing” but isn’t blind to the fact that the clinic is reopening a few miles away.

“So we will continue to go across to Minnesota to love these women and show that, you know, we’re here for you, regardless of the decision, but that there really are other solutions,” she said