Abortion rights advocates held a rally in Rochester’s downtown Peace Plaza Wednesday, calling for a political mobilization defending a woman’s right to choose an abortion at a time when that right is under threat like never before.
“This is an important time in American history,” said Dr. Beth Elliott, a pro-choice advocate and one of the speakers. “I am the face of pro-choice America. That’s not good enough anymore. Even more importantly, we need to be the voice of pro-choice America.”
The rally in Rochester, which drew more than 100 people, was timed to coincide with similar demonstrations in cities across the U.S. The message: The time of complacency is over. A return to a time before Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that gave women the right to choose, would mean a return to back-alley abortions and represent for women a loss of control over their own bodies.
The rallies come as eight states have passed bills to limit abortions this year. Missouri was the latest state to pass a so-called fetal heartbeat bill that effectively prohibits abortions after six to eight weeks of pregnancy.
Earlier this month, Alabama legislators voted to ban abortions in nearly all cases. The law mandates a lifetime prison term for a physician found guilty of providing an abortion.
Bills restricting access to the procedure have also been introduced in the Minnesota Legislature this session.
These challenges to Roe v. Wade are occurring after the appointment of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court last year, an event that abortion opponents see as tilting the balance of the court in their favor.
“This is not a drill or coincidence. What’s going on is an attempt to ban abortion outright,” said Vicki VanDeCreek, Planned Parenthood’s education and outreach manager for southeast Minnesota. “It’s not just an attack in Alabama or Georgia or Missouri. This is an attack on everyone in our nation who can or might get pregnant.”
Wednesday’s rally at the Peace Plaza was a political call-to-arms and a sign-waving spectacle. Women and some men held up signs that said, “Trust Women,” “Don’t Take Away Our Care,” and “Childbearing should be a choice, not a sentence.”
One pro-choice advocate pointed out that polls show a majority of people supporting a woman’s right to choose, but that pro-life advocates have been more committed and organized about achieving their goal of repealing Roe v. Wade.
Organizers of the rallies included the ACLU, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and Pro-Choice America. More than 400 events were planned on Tuesday for a national day of action, under the “StoptheBans” hashtag.
Dr. Ariela Marshall, a physician, said the heartbeat bills, which prohibit abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy, amount to outright abortion bans, because many women don’t know they’re pregnant until after that period.
Marshall said a pregnancy is “significantly more dangerous” to a woman from a medical perspective than an abortion. When a woman gets pregnant and chooses to have a child, she accepts that risk. By removing the option for a woman to choose an abortion, they are being forced to take on risk they did not intend.
“These bills lead to excess risk for people in our state from a physical, emotional and socio-economic health standpoint,” Marshall said. “As such, they are medically and morally wrong.”
Gale Julius, an organizer who led the crowd in chants between speeches, called on the audience to “stand up” against the Rochester area’s pro-life contingent of GOP state legislators, including Reps. Duane Quam and Nels Pierson and Sens. Carla Nelson and Dave Senjem.
“To all those folks, I say, ‘you’re on notice,” Julius said. “Women are marching in 2019 and 2020 to doors and phones and the polls. Enough is enough. I won’t play the ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ out.”
Monty Flinsch, a Rochester human rights advocate, told the crowd that men need to fight for women’s freedom like it was their own.
“Anything less is a complicity in an egregious violation of fundamental human rights,” Flinsch said.
Supporters are circling the track at Soldiers Memorial Field today to demonstrate their dedication to it, and its unpaved surface.
“We’ve used the track quite a bit,” said Debbie Beauchene as she and her daughter, Shannon Beauchene, finished running laps this morning. They were part of a group that planned to put in miles all day long in an effort to raise awareness of plans to pave the track — plans they oppose.
The mother and daughter, who took their dog, Rampage, for his first run on the track, said they’ve used it to train for running events, including Shannon’s home-school track and cross-country teams when she was a high-schooler.
“There is a lot of personal fitness that takes place on this track,” Debbie Beauchene said.
Approximately 20 runners started making their rounds at 5 a.m. and plan to be on the track until the sun goes down. By 7:30 a.m., another 10 had added their names to the log.
“I’m sure we have at least 50 miles so far,” said Gwen Jacobson, one of the event’s organizers. She said 50 to 60 runners have committed to showing up throughout the day, but more are expected.
“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘I didn’t sign up, but I’m going to show up,’” Jacobson said.
The runners are hoping to change the minds of Rochester Park Board members, who have started the process for converting the cinder-covered oval into an asphalt track as part of a festival grounds defined in the park’s 2016 master plan.
Switching to an asphalt track, the runners say, would create a less-attractive surface for running events, especially the five to six Hal Martin All Comers Track Meets held each summer.
The trouble is that the old-time cinders used on the track are no longer in supply to be replenished, and on several occasions drainage issues have made it difficult to use the track for days after rain has flooded the area.
The Rochester Track Club has pitched using Beam Clay, a crushed natural material, to replace the cinders.
Jacobson said she plans to take the number of miles logged during today’s run and a petition with more than 1,300 signatures to the June 4 Park Board meeting, when board members plan to review a request seeking contractors for the project
In addition to the materials generated by the awareness effort, she said track supporters will have research regarding Beam Clay and questions for the Park Board.
While Mike Nigbur, Rochester’s park and forestry division head, said a 16-inch foundation was needed to make the track stable enough for use as a festival area featuring food trucks, Jacobson said she believes a similar goal is achievable with a 4-inch base.
She is also suggesting food trucks used during festivals could park on the outside of the track and allow customers to use the track for accessing the vendors.
“Families like it because its open,” she said, noting the Park Board should seek an option that can work well for running events and festivals.
Construction has made getting around downtown by car a Pac-Man-like maze.
This weekend, as the Rochester Farmers Market, Med City Marathon events and three public high school graduations converge, getting around will be more difficult for people traveling in personal vehicles.
To help accommodate expected heavy event attendance, city parking ramps and public transit will be free Saturday through Monday.
Beginning Friday evening at 7 p.m., Civic Center Drive will be closed from First Street Southeast to across the Zumbro River. Second Street from First Avenue Southeast will also be closed.
However, don’t let those “road closed” signs deter you from parking. People can still get to three city parking ramps from Broadway Avenue South.
Ramp 6 and the First Street ramp will be accessible from First Street Southeast. People can also get to the First Street and Second Street parking ramps from Second Street Southeast. With the Civic Center ramp closed due to construction, those ramps are the closest open parking structures to the Mayo Civic Center.
Each of the ramps has handicap accessible spots. People who have trouble finding those parking stalls can contact Lanier Parking services via the intercom at the ramp entries.
On Saturday afternoon, beginning at 1:45 p.m., to accommodate drop-off traffic for graduations, Civic Center Drive will open to northbound traffic from Second Street Southeast.
Drop-off points for Mayo Civic Center will be on Civic Center Drive Southeast at the west entrance and at the north lot off Center Street East. City officials will have more than 30 wheelchairs at the civic center for public use by people with mobility limitations.
The road closures are in addition to closures on First Avenue Southeast, which is closed from Center Street to Second Street Southeast for construction, and First Street Southeast, which is closed for the same construction project.
The Rochester School District will try to cut down its traffic by busing John Marshall graduates, band members and the choir to the venue, said Rochester Schools Superintendent Michael Muñoz.
“It’s going to be interesting, to say the least,” Muñoz said. “But we’re in Minnesota, you can’t not do construction in the nice weather.”
The Mayo Clinic-owned Fullerton parking lot south of Fourth Street Southeast will also be open to the public over the weekend.
Civic Center Drive will remain closed leading up to the Med City Marathon. The marathon, half-marathon and relay races are on Sunday, but there are still plenty of events on Saturday. Runners pick up packets starting at 8 a.m. at the civic center, and there are events through the day: a 5K race, 1.8-mile family walk and shorter-distance kids marathon, all starting and finishing downtown. The Saturday events wrap up by 3 p.m.