The One Abortion Clinic in North Dakota

The Red River Women’s Clinic located in Fargo, ND.

Reuters/Dan Koeck

There is one women’s clinic in North Dakota that performs abortions. The Red River Women’s Clinic is located in downtown Fargo, ND. It serves women in all of North Dakota, northwestern Minnesota, and South Dakota. It is an important clinic with an important location. If it happened to close, there would be no abortion clinics between Minneapolis and central Montana.

There are five states that have only one abortion clinic: North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, and Missouri.

North Dakota is also among four states that have “trigger laws”. This means that if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, North Dakota will immediately put abortion bans into effect.

Other law requirements include 24-hour consent and parental consent. At least 24 hours before the procedure, patients will be provided consultation on the risks and complications by an MD. If the patient is not yet 18 years old, both parents/guardians must be informed 24 hours before the minor consents. Consent is not required if the procedure is necessary to preserve life and judicial waivers may be possible.

North Dakota hasn’t made abortion easy. There was an effort made to ban abortions as soon as a fetal heartbeat was heard. For some women, this could be before they even know they’re pregnant.

Every day the clinic is faced with protestors. Abortions are performed once a week, on Wednesdays. On any given Wednesday, at any given time, protestors can be seen braving the cold and holding signs meant to drive women away.

North Dakota is a traditionally conservative state. On the drive to Fargo from Minneapolis, the interstate is decorated with large billboards stating “life begins at conception” and “Mom says I had fingerprints before I was born”. The statements are supported by pictures of cute babies and Jesus.

On Sundays, the Shack (Fargo’s local breakfast spot) is packed out the door with churchgoers congregating after mass. North Dakota has the most churches per capita of any state. About 50% of people are Protestant, 26% are Catholic, 3% other, and 20% no religion. Most religions say abortion is wrong. That is also generally the Republican stance. Fargo is both religious and conservative.

It is therefore common for pro-lifers to be outside of the clinic, begging the women going inside to change their minds. It is sometimes referred to as “sidewalk counseling”. People trying one last time to dissuade the expecting mother. It can come off harmless. All they’re trying to say is that you have options. And that you can talk about these options with them. But this often leads to shaming and guilt. Which is the last thing someone already vulnerable needs to feel.

Sometimes it’s not deceiving but is aggressive. It’s screaming and shouting derogatory things. It’s praying and crying and harassment. The extremists aren’t always there but when they are, it has to be particularly awful for incoming patients. And being the only clinic in North Dakota, the extremists do come.

In an effort to counteract this, the clinic offers escorts for women from their car or bus stop into the clinic. The escorts wear a bright vest, specifically saying “Clinic Escort”. Escorts are instructed not to engage with protestors and to try to shield the women from them. Having safe and complete access to the door of the clinic is very important. Women don’t need anything making the day harder for them than it already is.

I recently sent the Red River Women’s Clinic an email to ask them how I could get involved. They also generously took the time to respond to a few other questions I had for them.

How long has the clinic been around?

RRWC has been providing abortion care since July, 1998.

What difficulties does the clinic face?

Protesters harassing and bullying our patients each week and legislative attempts to restrict abortion access in North Dakota.

What makes the Red River Women’s Clinic so important/unique?

We are the only abortion provider in the state of North Dakota. We serve patients from a tri-state region including ND, SD, and northwestern MN. Without access to abortion in this region, women would have to travel vast distances to access abortion care, leaving the most vulnerable women in our society unable to access services.

How can people help?

People can help by escorting at the clinic and/or supporting the ND WIN (Women in Need) Abortion Access Fund which supports RRWC patients financially.

What does the clinic hope for in the future?

That abortion access will be recognized as a human right and that abortion becomes less stigmatized.

The issue of abortion accessibility is a big one. Women have to deal with traveling up to hundreds of miles, the cost, the law, and the safety of the procedure. And then there is the procedure itself. So please treat women kindly, with respect, and support whatever choices they have to make.