The 40 Days for Life campaign, which started Sept. 22 and extends until Oct. 31, aims to pray and fast to end abortion. However, people in the community have varying beliefs on this national campaign. 40 Days for Life, which started in 2004, currently takes place in over 200 locations in the six countries, according to its Web site.
Junior Mike Eikmeier said he is very pro-choice because he believes everyone has the freedom of choice for any choice they want.
“I have always been supportive of women’s rights, but equal rights above all,” he said. “No one should be superior to another.”
He doesn’t understand the 40 Days for Life campaign and he said it puts a black eye on Fargo.
“Their constant protest bothers business in the area and makes people unhappy,” he said. “They are kind of embarrassing. There’s been a lot of negativity in the air as far as the anti-abortionist people being rude and insensitive to people’s situations. They have a superior attitude, I think.”
The Red River Women’s Clinic, where Eikmeier is an escort, is the only clinic in North Dakota that provides abortion services, according to its Web site. The escorts are there to support patients and their families as they enter the clinic, and this effort is increased during the 40 Days for Life campaign.
He said escorts are at the clinic are there mainly for anti-harassment purposes, and each escort is there for different reasons.
“All we’re there for is just to be peaceful and make sure these women don’t get harassed,” he said. “It helps people because there has been harassment against abortion for so long and the stigma is so negative that women need escorts there.”
Eikmeier said the escorts are there to protect the peace, especially since other services are offered at the clinic besides abortion.
“We don’t want violence or harassment against those who are seeking medical assistance because they don’t always do abortions,” he said. “They have the right to seek the services and to walk in the entrance and accuse them of going to hell is not helpful.”
Junior Elise Tweten said she is between pro-choice and pro-life.
“I have to be pro-life because I am against killing,” she said. “I would be against abortion but I can’t apply my personal feelings about it to other people’s lives. We need [abortion] as a safety net because there are women who are victims of incest and rape and it’s unfair to ask them to go through the pregnancy and birthing.”
Tweten said those women become pregnant with a forceful and ugly thing andshe doesn’t feel that’s something God wants from them.
“I have to be pro-choice because I wouldn’t have an abortion myself, but you shouldn’t expect everyone to have the same viewpoint or exactly the same values,” she said.
Tweten said the Bible is a beautiful thing, but it shouldn’t be taken literally like some of the protestors have been doing. The passages most often quoted by protestors come from Psalms or books of poems which aren’t literal or don’t aim to be literal, she said.
“Being a religion major, I’ve looked into Jewish tradition, and from what I’ve read, you aren’t a human until you take that first breath, when God breathes in you. I don’t remember anything from the womb and I’m guessing most people don’t,” she said. “Does that mean I want an unborn child to be harmed? No. We do want to protect women, though.”
Tweten said she thinks it’s far more dangerous to outlaw abortion because women will still find a way to protect themselves. She said she disagrees with the notion of protesting.
“I was asked to be a protestor and I couldn’t because I don’t see how belittling someone in public is going to help them make a rational decision about their situation,” she said. “I have a lot of friends who escort, which is great, but I couldn’t agree to do that either. I have never been put in the position where I would need an abortion or think about it, so I get caught in the middle a lot.”
Junior Brigitte Pinsonneault, president of Cobbers for Life who helped start the organization on campus, said she is pro-life because she believes human life starts at conception. She said 40 Days for Life is a wonderful event.
“It’s really uplifting for us to go outside the Concordia community and see so many people in the Fargo-Moorhead community who have pro-life beliefs, and it’s a really moving experience to take part in that,” she said.
The Cobbers for Life group takes trips to the clinic at least once a week during this 40 Days of Life and for an hour-long session on Wednesday nights. She said they take part in a prayer and peaceful vigil and they hold up signs that say things like “Pray to end abortion”.
“Our group has talked about it and the issue of abortion is difficult enough in itself,” she said. “We don’t feel it’s right to make it more complicated or make people more angry and protest in a harassing way. We are there to support the pro-life cause in a peaceful way and with prayer.”
Pinsonneault said she feels it’s important for pro-life activists to be peaceful in their protests since they value all life from conception until natural death. She said it’s also important to educate women about other options besides abortion, and one of the places they can go for that education is the First Choice Clinic in Fargo. She feels education is important because the issue of abortion is so complicated.
“It’s not a black and white issue at all,” she said.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Valley Women’s Clinic, said that before President Obama was elected, there were usually just five protestors outside the clinic, but they have seen a much bigger increase to around 15 or 20 people every week on Wednesdays, when the abortion service is provided.
“We don’t pay attention or monitor them,” she said. “We have escorts then so the patients aren’t harassed. We have had more protesting in the last year or year and a half than in the last decade.”
Kromenaker said the protestors don’t bother her at all and they have no affect on the clinic’s services.
“Personally they don’t intimidate me or make me rethink my position on being pro-choice,” she said. “There’s no other provider or other services that their patients have to tolerate sidewalk bullying.”
Despite the protestors, Kromenaker said the employees and escorts maintain a positive attitude.
“The staff does not engage with them,” she said. “We keep a smile on our face. If we get angry, that’ll affect our patients. The last thing I want to see is a staff person standing in their medical scrubs in a showdown with somebody. It’s not productive. Nobody’s going to change my mind so why would I want to change someone else’s?”
Kromenaker has been doing this work for 17 years, and she has maintained a pro-choice viewpoint.
“Choice is one very important aspect of being a full member of society,” she said. “I don’t feel women have true equality if they don’t have this choice.”
She said she thinks the 40 Days for Life campaign is not as productive as some protestors believe.
“I think it is a really ineffective way to try and accomplish the goals that people who participate in want to accomplish,” she said. “They want to end abortion. If you outlaw abortion, it doesn’t end abortion. Standing outside the clinic is the last place you should be. She’s already pregnant. They’re doing nothing to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place.”
Kromenaker said the reaction to this issue is much more in their favor than anything else. She said the community has really stepped up to the plate with an overwhelming response for escorts. She believes the pro-lifers are a small but very local minority in the Fargo-Moorhead community. A counter to this protest is 40 Days of Prayer, sponsored by a female ordained minister with Faith Aloud, an organization that involves work against the stigma against abortion.
“The real positive thing is that the community comes out in support of us,” she said. “We get a whole new support base. The people who are participating [in the protest] try to claim that they are of a higher moral and ethical degree than those of us who volunteer or provide the service, and people strongly disagree with that.”
Kromenaker said she feels the protestors aren’t accomplishing anything.
“We don’t question them,” she said. “We don’t try to change their minds. We don’t try to persuade them from what they’re doing. They are very much trying to challenge and debate, which is not very respectful.”
Another positive aspect of the protesting is an increased volunteering base, according to Kromenaker. The vast majority of volunteers and escorts at the clinic are from Concordia, she said.
Kromenaker said abortion is a huge debate and she doesn’t see it changing anytime soon. Something that could improve the situation would be to get a buffer zone at the clinic, she said, where protestors couldn’t be within a certain distance of the patients. Something else she would like to see is if both sides could maintain common ground.
“If we could just agree that preventing unintended pregnancies is a goal of both sides and work toward positive solutions to that, it’d be better,” she said. “Everyone could work together.”
I’m a senior at Concordia graduating in May with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Journalism is my life and my passion, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.