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Northland leaders react to abortion ruling

Friday's U.S. Supreme Court decision was widely expected, but comments from local Democratic and Republican leaders point to a long fight ahead.

escorts surround a patient at a clinic during a protest
Clinic escorts surround a patient who arrived to the WE Health Clinic in Duluth on May 6 as protesters with Pro-life Ministries of Duluth try to get the patient's attention.
Dan Williamson / 2022 file / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Friday's historic ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade precedent was met with a mix of jubilation and rage by Northland politicians and candidates.

While ending a nationwide right to abortion, the 6-3 decision in Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization won’t restrict access to the procedure in Minnesota, where it remains legal under state law. But it is likely to drive a surge in demand, as abortion is effectively outlawed in every surrounding state, including Wisconsin.

U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber, who represents the 8th Congressional District, argued the decision will “save countless lives.”

"As the father of five beautiful children, I believe that all life has value and should be protected, and this ruling is a win for the sanctity of life," the Republican from Hermantown said in a statement. "Additionally, this decision also returns decision-making power back to elected officials in states as intended."

Stauber’s opponent, state Rep. Jen Schultz, DFL-Duluth, called it a “sad day" and a "seismic decision that strips our freedom to choose if and when to have a family."

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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.

“This decision is wrong and will harm millions of people," she said. "It is a fundamental right of every person to make their own health decisions with their doctor, not politicians. In Congress, and as a private citizen, I will fight for our right to choose and to ensure that Minnesotans are able to make their own health care decisions."

Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, called it “heartbreaking, but unfortunately expected” and warned that the court is not done revoking rights, as explicitly suggested in a concurrence by Associate Justice Clarence Thomas.

“The conservatives on the Supreme Court have overturned 50 years of precedent,” Bewley said. “For years they complained about judicial activism, well now we know it was nothing but a smokescreen to get to their desired results — results that are opposed by the overwhelming majority of this nation’s citizens. A sad day, and a harbinger of what might be in store in the future. What is next? The right to marry? The right to contraceptives?”

While the decision now puts abortion access under the control of the states, it is widely expected that there will be future efforts to enact a nationwide ban — though Congress and the presidency currently remain in Democratic hands.

“Today’s landmark ruling is a historic victory for human rights,” said Wisconsin 7th Congressional District U.S. Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wausau. “This decision paves the way for us to protect all life.”

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson took to Twitter to address the ruling.

"I trust women to make decisions about their health and lives," she wrote. "As mayor and as a Minnesotan I will fight with every fiber of my being to protect access to healthy, safe, legal abortion, to unhindered access to birth control AND the right of every person to have full agency of their body."

With Minnesota's executive positions and entire Legislature up for election this year, a battle likely looms over ongoing access to the procedure in the state — though there remains a strong protection under a 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling.

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State Sen. Justin Eichorn, R-Grand Rapids, called it a "huge victory for the sanctity of human life."

"Every human life is worth protecting from conception to natural death," he said. "I will continue my work to support all human life, especially mothers, babies and families."

That sentiment was echoed by state Rep. Spencer Igo, R-Grand Rapids, who wrote that "today’s ruling is a momentous day for the pro-life movement."

Duluth's 8th Senate District DFL didn't spare words while vowing to keep abortion legal in Minnesota.

"People will die because of this tyrannical decision, and it will not end here," the unit said in a tweet, alluding to Thomas' opinion. "Enough is enough. We are the MAJORITY, and it is time to say to the extremist minority that has hijacked the Supreme Court that we will not allow them to strip us of our rights and of our freedoms."

Coincidentally, Friday was the first day of early voting for the August primary.

“We knew this was coming but it doesn’t make it any less shocking,” Duluth City Councilor and House District 8B candidate Arik Forsman said. “I stand in strong solidarity for the right to choose and women’s reproductive rights in Minnesota.”

His DFL primary opponent, Alicia Kozlowski, followed with an even more forceful response.

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"FULL of rage and defiance!" she wrote. "This is a betrayal that falls hardest on Black and Brown folks, LGBTQ folks, and people already struggling to afford life. We can’t leave our kids fewer rights than us. Totally gut wrenching. Feel all the feels — then let’s fight like hell for our rights!"

This story was updated at 3:36 p.m. June 24 with addiction reaction from local leaders. It was originally posted at 12:03 p.m. June 24.

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A group called Mothers Offering Maternal Support is attempting to intervene after Ramsey County Judge Thomas Gilligan in July tossed several laws restricting abortion, including a 24-hour wait period and a requirement for minors to notify both parents before getting the procedure. Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison, who backs abortion rights, declined to file an appeal in the case, arguing his office had spent three years and more than half a million dollars defending the laws in the case Doe v. Minnesota.

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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