Around 200 people marched down Hwy. 169 in St. Peter on Thursday, May 5 with picket signs held high in protest of a draft Supreme Court majority opinion which poises to strike down federal constitutional abortion protections.
Organizers Margarita Ruiz and Emily Falk, in conjunction with progressive activist group Indivisible St. Peter/Greater Mankato galvanized hundreds of women, men and children to take part in the Rally for Reproductive Rights just three days after the SCOTUS opinion was leaked.
The initial draft opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito and obtained by Politico on May 2, would overturn federal protections of abortion rights established in the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade and 1992 decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The court’s ruling is not final until a majority opinion is published, likely within the next two months.
“They are not supposed to be legislating from the bench,” said Falk. “Not a single person on the Supreme Court have a say in what choices you made with your body, the choices you make for yourself and your family, your community and all those around you. This puts more people at risk.”
Protesters waved cardboard signs on 169 outside Minnesota Square Park sporting slogans like “My body, my choice,” and “If you cut off my reproductive rights, can I cut off yours?” Rallygoers cheered as cars and semi trucks honked in approval and leaders with megaphones in the back led the crowd in protest chants.
The rallygoers then marched to the pavilion at Minnesota Square Park to hear the words of guest speakers and local politicians, like former Minnesota House Rep. Jeff Brand. The former DFL lawmaker previously represented St. Peter in the Minnesota legislature until losing his seat to incumbent Rep. Susan Akland, R-St. Peter, in 2020. Brand is levying a challenge for his old seat in the upcoming 2022 election.
“I believe everyone in this country should have access to every medical procedure and every medication that they need and in this situation we’re talking about a procedure and medication that a minority of people in this country believe you all should not have,” said Brand. “That unfortunately means we are at a point where we’re having to defend democracy against authoritarian fascism in America.”
In the event Roe v. Wade is overturned, the right to an abortion up to fetal viability would still be protected in Minnesota under the Minnesota Supreme Court’s 1995 ruling in Doe v. Gomez. But Brand said abortion access is unduly restricted under state law.
“In Minnesota, we do have constitutional protection, but it is restricted, which means you do have to go to through all of these hoops to have an abortion in Minnesota,” said Brand. “There aren’t a lot of private facilities so you do have to travel to get an abortion in the state. It’s not like there’s one down the street or even in the next county.”
Minnesota Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, who represents Nicollet County and Mankato, was unable to attend in person but relayed a message of support to the protesters. His statement raised alarm that other Supreme Court decisions based on privacy protections could be next on the chopping block.
“The recently leaked draft opinion of the US Supreme Court has made clear that not only are women’s healthcare at risk, but also all the other rights to privacy previously recognized including marriage equality,” said Frentz. “In a democracy, we have to stand together if we want to protect our rights. We will lead the fight this year to protect a woman’s right to choose and to do that we need to organize, advocate and vote.”
Political and personal
Indivisible Founder Yurie Hong told protesters to take a page from activists in Ireland, who successfully pushed for the legalization of abortion in 2018 by referendum, by sharing their own personal experiences and how overturning Roe v. Wade would impact their lives.
“I love my life right now. I love my kids, I love my husband, I love my job, I love that I got a phd when my grandmother never got to go to school,” said Hong. “None of it would have been possible if I did not have the choices available to me. This is the case for many people that you know.”
Jill Hildebrandt, a local actor and writer, said she could no longer stay silent about her own abortion 31 years ago. It was 17 days after her 21st birthday when Hildebrandt said she made one of the most difficult decisions of her life.
She and her 20-year-old partner at the time used birth control, but it failed. Having grown up in poverty and in the middle of earning her college degree, Hildebrandt said she wasn’t ready to care for a child.
The process was anything but easy. Hildebrandt recalled confronting anti-abortion protestors outside the clinic in Highland Park, St. Paul. She entered a waiting room with six other women and observed she was the only one there with the father by her side.
Today, she remembers the date her child would have been born and how old they would be, but Hildebrandt doesn’t regret her decision.
“It’s not because I am a murderer, but because I got to make a safe choice,” said Hildebrandt. “Walk with me today and I love my children who are 16 and 11 and I chose to have them when I was ready.”
Haley Ashwood, an adoptive mother of three children in Uganda, told the crowd she’s always known she never wanted biological kids. In her years as a social worker and working in foster care, Ashwood said she’s seen too many children in the United States and abroad hungry and uncared for.
Untimely pregnancies coerced women in her own family into toxic marriages, Ashwood told the crowd, and she warned that rolling back abortion protections could lead to other privacy protections for women being stripped away.
“I watched my grandmother and my mother be forced into marriage with abusive, alcoholic men that they couldn’t leave — no access to birth control,” said Ashwood. “Women could not get birth control until 1974 without their husband’s permission. I was born in 1977 … This isn’t just about abortion, this is about your right to get birth control, the morning after pill.”
Dozens of wagging tails and drooling tongues flocked to Thompson Dog Park in St. Peter for the first ever PAWS Carnival. The Saturday festival brought pups and pet owners alike together for a day of dog-friendly activities, services and demonstrations.
Hosted by Providing Animals With Shelter (PAWS), the carnival was a step up from the organization’s yearly PAWS walks. The nonprofit, which dedicates funds to sheltering animals in St. Peter, Kasota and Nicollet County, sought to create a vendor- and entertainment-fueled event that would attract both dog owners and non-pet owning families alike.
The carnival kicked off at 10:30 a.m. with attendees able to register for a dog walk around Hallett’s Pond at 11 a.m.
Vendors representing pet-related businesses, organizations and nonprofits set up booths and activities around the Thompson Dog Park.
Guests could try their luck tossing fake feces into a trash can with a pooper scooper to win a prize at the Pet Expo Booth; enter a raffle hosted by True Connections Canine Academy; or even adopt a dog or hamster from Mending Spirits Animal Rescue.
Of course, pet owners could also let their dogs get some exercise at the Thompson Dog Park. Beagles, bulldogs, goldendoodles and everything in between romped around the park grounds, which were recently established in the summer of 2020.
“We stopped over at True Canine Connections,” said St. Peter resident Kristi Flattum, who brought her rescued Australian Cattle Dog mix to the carnival. “He did a training there six months ago and he remembers the trainer, it’s kind of funny. They have treats and he knows that so he walked right up to her and sat down.”
Guests could stop to chow down on a gyro or a burger and fries, thanks to a couple of food vendors, and sit back to watch some of the animal entertainment. Dog trainers led their furry friends through an agility course, directing their canines to weave between poles, jump over hurdles and run through a green and yellow tunnel.
Key City Kennel Club demonstrated the American Kennel Club sport of Scent Work. In this timed competition, dogs are trained to track certain odors and search the arena for a hidden object. Neither the trainer nor their companion knows where the object is and they must rely only on the dog’s nose to find the scent the fastest.
Attendees could get in on the action themselves in a Trick Talent Show. For the chance to win a prize, owners instructed their dogs to perform tricks like sit, shake, roll over and play dead for the crowd.
The PAWS Carnival was also visited by special guests Nicollet County Deputy Paul Biederman and his K-9 partner Dillon. Biederman answered audience questions on his German Shepherd partner, which is trained to sniff out drugs, find missing people and defend against threats to law enforcement.
Since joining the force in 2015, Dillon rides along with Biederman nearly every day, but in the past couple years he’s only been called into action around two or three times a month. The squad car includes space for a kennel and a temperature sensor to automatically cool down the interior if the vehicle overheats.
“That dog came over from overseas and he was just over a year old and he really knew how to be a dog and that was really it,” said Biederman. “A lot of the basic obedience we did together at training camp … If you’re familiar with dogs they like to cheat and shortcut stuff, they unlearn some things. So if you have that experience of training them, you have a little bit more of an ability to fix things or work on new things with your dog.”
K-9’s are trained with positive reinforcement, said Biederman. Dogs selected for police work have higher drives and are greatly engaged in play so they can be trained through play driven exercises.
Biederman passed around Dillon’s specialized bullet and stab resistant vest, which was purchased with dollars raised by local Girl Scout cookie sales.
“It’s not overly heavy, it’s actually a little lighter than the one’s that we wear,” said Biederman. “If we’re going into a situation that’s higher risk or we know the person we’re looking for has a weapon or a high likelihood that they do, I’ll take the time to put that on.”
When Dillon isn’t on the job, he’s at home with Biederman’s four children. Though trained for apprehension, Biederman said the German Shepherd isn’t aggressive. Dillon is only allowed to bite under three circumstances.
“He can protect himself if someone hits him or assaults him. If he bites that person, that’s ok,” said Biederman. “He can protect me so if someone comes over and starts assaulting and attacking me, he can protect me. And then he can also apprehend someone if I tell him to. That person has to be committing a serious crime that’s hurting someone else or about to hurt someone else.”