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Signs duel yet again at Highland Park abortion protest

Her sign said "I Regret My Abortion." For the past few years she's been carrying it to pro-life protests, including the one that took place on Good Friday at the Highland Park office of Planned Parenthood. Ann Marie Cosgrove had an abortion in 1985 when she was young, poor and felt she had nowhere to turn. To ease her pain, Cosgrove founded the state chapter of Silent No More, a pro-life group dedicated to consoling women who have aborted and encouraging women to make what she considers the only right choice, to keep the baby.

In her opinion, life begins at the moment of conception. Microscopic embryos, even those resulting from rape, should have the right to life and a relationship with God. When asked her opinion on the hundreds of thousands of unwanted children who are abused, neglected, poverty-stricken, and lacking housing and healthcare resources, she refers to her own difficult childhood and to the suffering of Jesus on the Cross. "Suffering is not a bad thing" she says.

Kitty Merrill's sign said "NOW for Pro-Choice." For over three decades, she's been carrying her sign at pro-choice events. What motivates her to keep fighting are the memories of what life was like for women prior to legalized abortion. In the early '70s, Merrill worked in the hotel industry with women barely surviving on their meager tips. When two of her friends discovered that they were pregnant, neither could fathom bringing children into their poverty-stricken lives.

Fortunate to have survived
As abortion services were non-existent, both women performed self-abortions. One consumed veterinary drugs to induce labor; the other used knitting needles. They were fortunate to have survived. Countless women have died painful deaths from such procedures. Merrill continues to be haunted by a decades old image of a woman on the cover of Ms. Magazine who lay bloody and dead, the victim of a self-induced abortion.

Over the years, Merrill has done an extensive amount of scientific and religious research pertaining to abortion. Her opinion is that "embryos can't be considered to have human properties." She aligns with the Jewish belief that a fertilized egg is not viable until the fourth month of pregnancy. This is Merrill's personal opinion alone and not one that she would impose on anyone. She stresses the importance of supporting women through whichever decision they choose.

The protest in St. Paul began more than three decades ago by Pro-Life Action Ministries. A decade ago, Planned Parenthood staged the first counter-demonstration and invited pro-choice volunteers, donors, and members of their large activist network to participate. Last Friday's protest was relatively peaceful.

It wasn't always this way. Sara Beth Miller, communications/media representative for Planned Parenthood, said that for approximately the first 20 years, pro-lifers holding graphic signs attempted to harass patients and physically block their access to the facility. The event has become more civilized during the last few years due to increased organization between Planned Parenthood, Pro-Life Ministries, and the Saint Paul Police Department.

Different moods during protest
During the protest, the mood in the cordoned off pro-life area was positively mournful. Cosgrove said that protesters view the event as a funeral for murdered children. Hymns were chanted and some carried signs proclaiming "Planned Parenthood Tells Lies." Many carried rosaries or enormous crosses. All participants fell to their knees and joined in with prayers, which were recited over a loud PA system.

On the opposite side of the driveway, the pro-choice group was noticeably more celebratory, with the focus on defending and celebrating the hard-earned rights of women. The crowd cheered as vehicles honked in support. A multifaith pro-choice prayer service was held. Men and women joined together in a song containing the refrain "Amazing choice, to birth or not, it is my body holy, the live ones need love and care for respect for sovereignty." Yet, even amidst the joy, there was sadness over the fact that almost 40 years after abortion was legalized, such demonstrations continue to be necessary. Shannon Drury, president of the National Organization for Women, said that "they are still here trying to take people's rights away." She admonished the pro-lifers for wasting energy protesting when they could be out rallying for better children's services and "supporting people from the ground up."

Part of Drury's wish may have come true. This year, Planned Parenthood encouraged people to "Pledge a Protestor." In approximately five hours, they raised over $23,000 — much-needed money to help offset major state funding cuts — which will be put toward their many services including adoption, counseling, exams, vaccines, education, and children's services. In short, helping people from the ground up. 

At the end of the rainy day, Ann Marie Cosgrove and Kitty Merrill packed up their dog-earned signs and headed home to prepare for the next protest. There are a lot more to come. Women's reproductive rights are sadly making headlines again due to the new health-care package, which restricts access to abortion. Yet another battle in the never-ending war of reproductive freedom.

Peg Ballentine is a Twin Cities freelance writer and a columnist with MN NOW Times.

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Comments (18)

As has been the case for DECADES now, this debate seems to always take the same turn. It is not about when life begins...the moral issue of abortions...the pain of the decision...etc. It always, finally, comes down to one signficant issue: A WOMAN'S RIGHT TO CHOSE. And that issue has been decided.

Although I do not take the Bible to be literal truth, there are essential truths within that beloved and ancient book. Among them is this verse from the second chapter of Genesis:

"then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground,

and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being." [Genesis 2:7].

The essential truth of this verse, a truth reflected in human culture from ancient times up to and including the movies "Ghost" and "Prisoner of Azkarban" is that we do not live unless our spirits dwell within our bodies. When the spirit departs the body (as we "breathe our last") we die.

"Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.' Having said this, he breathed his last." Luke 23:46

The same was true at the beginning of our lives as it was with Adam. He did not become fully a "living being" until God breathed the breath of life, i.e. Adam's spirit, into his fully-formed body.

The same is true with each of us upon our birth. We may be fully formed and even physically active and reactive within the womb, but we are soulless until we breathe in our spirits, our souls, with our first breath outside the womb.

In it's purest, most complete form, then, life begins with our first breath outside the womb. Prior to this we are only potential human beings.

This does not mean that we should not treat a developing fetus (and its mother) with respect, nor that those who find abortion a necessity for their own circumstances, should avail themselves of that procedure without deep and careful consideration,...

nor does it mean that those who procure abortions will not grieve mightily for what might have been in the same way that those who suffer miscarriages or natural fetal deaths, but only that such grief is for the loss of our dreams and expectations over what might have been (although I freely admit that this may be a distinction without a difference for many people).

Based on the Bible itself, and on the reality that most humans accept and understand without thinking, a child is not fully a child, as with Adam, not "a living being," until it receives its soul as it draws its first breath.

This is, of course, entirely a religious perspective. Others have the right and the responsibility to find their own sources and come to their own conclusions. What they do not have the right to do is force me, nor others who come to different perspectives than their own, to live by the dictates of their religion(s).

They may call us to faithfulness as they sense it, even as I also do with my friends and, at times, my neighbors, but they do NOT have the right to compel everyone in these united states to live by their own religious perspectives, nor to harass those who live according to other religiously-based, or secularly-based beliefs.

Abortion is always regrettable, but until society supports young families and their children with good jobs or, lacking that, sufficient aid to be able to support every child conceived, and until rape and incest come to an end, abortion, though regrettable, will continue to be necessary. Indeed, it must remain available to those who need it, even while society works to minimize that need as much as possible.

"Abortion is always regrettable, but until society supports young families and their children with good jobs or, lacking that, sufficient aid to be able to support every child conceived, and until rape and incest come to an end, abortion, though regrettable, will continue to be necessary."

Shorter Kapphahn:

"Until society is willing to take care of your baby from the minute it takes it's first breath; until human beings never commit crimes against one another; and as long as it's birth might cause an imposition upon the mother, better that breath never be taken."

I have never seen a more honest description of leftists' view on the sanctity of human life.

Oddly enough, I find my own breath taken away right now.

It is always a delusion among some of our rightwing friends that NO ONE would ever waste a minute in profitable, productive activity unless the only other alternative were starvation and abject poverty; people will never work unless the wolf is figuratively at their very door.

The projection of their own inherent hatred of work (and the implied hope that they should, some day, by hook or by crook, gain sufficient wealth to never, EVER, have to work again), explains a great deal of their dysfunctional, disturbed, disturbing and provably inaccurate attitudes regarding their fellow citizens.

The fact is, that the vast majority of people have a strong desire to be productive citizens, but lack the skills and/or physical and psychological health to do so. With appropriate counseling (rare, to say the least) and appropriate health care, nearly everyone can come to lead a productive life.

To blame others for their lack of productivity simply because you do not have the skills, nor the imagination to realize that their might be those with the skills required to assist them in becoming healthy enough to be productive is, like the Biblical Cain, to wash your hands of your God-given responsibility to care for your fellow humans.

Of course we can all get away with this in this life, but in the next? Perhaps not.

I think the point is that for many people, this issue is not about the mere right to choose, but rather about competing moral considerations. To cite an oversimplified conception of stare decisis and tell those who think maybe, just maybe, the original Roe decision was confused legal, not to mention moral, reasoning, that they just need to get over it, is spectacularly disingenuous unless you are willing to apply the same logic to all legal decisions. And of course, this is impossible, as everybody knows. So-called activist judges are simply those judges who issue rulings and opinions with which one disagrees.

Not that it matters, but I concede (confess?) all this as one who is pro-choice, though with deepening reservations. At times I have a sinking feeling that Nat Hentoff may be right on this issue.

To my mind, the abortion issue highlights, as few others can, the severe limitations of rights-based Liberalism (capital "L" to indicate the term is inclusive of Republicans and Democrats, libertarians and Rawlsian liberals). But I digress. . . .

With all due respect, Greg.

I find the juxtaposition of your penchant for quoting the bible with your apparently self-awarded authority to determine when, and under what circumstances the taking of a helpless, wholly innocent human life "continues to be necessary", highly disturbing.


First, I get concerned when someone writes, "I don't take the Bible literally, but here's a part of it I like because it supports my position." There are some issues with logic there.

Second, your Adam analogy is a real big stretch.

Third, you're only trying to rationalize where you THINK the line should be drawn. But why draw the line at the first breath outside of the womb? Princeton's Peter Singer says we're all "non-persons" until we are rational and self-conscious. At what month or year or life does that happen?

Just about all of us would agree that the killing of a two-week-old baby would be murder. Killing of a fetus or an embryo is murder, too. Sorry that you don't like the label.

Dan,...with this (your) statement:
I think the point is that for many people, this issue is not about the mere right to choose, but rather about competing moral considerations.

You have just made my case. Indeed it IS competing moral considerations, and that is precisely why it again comes down to a woman's right to chose based on HER OWN MORAL CONVICTIONS.
Not those of others.

What the anti-abortion folks want to do is impose their own personal convictions on society as a whole. I can see why they would want to do that as deepseated as moral convictions can be; but in my opinion, that was exactly why the Supreme Court decided as they did. Thus, all women are now offered the choice based on their own personal moral beliefs.

With respect, I don't believe I made your case whatsoever. My point is that many people think there are larger moral considerations that compete with a woman's right to choose. Many of these same people would also find the notion of a person somehow arbitrarily "choosing" her or his own moral convictions, smorgasbord style, to be a superficial and ultimately self-refuting approach to moral reasoning. Couching the abortion debate in the language of rights sweeps all that under the rug, which is convenient for those who are untroubled by the current law.

The startling idea that rights in general might be grounded in, and anteceded by, certain duties is incomprehensible to classic Liberalism, whether of the left or the right.

Tom and Ed, of course you have every right to state your convictions as clearly as I have mine, whether Biblically based or otherwise, although I note you have not done so, but, in our American, Constitutionally-Based, Representative Democracy, you do not have the right to have your own, personal, convictions determine the rights of others. Neither do I. It is enough, in our system, that you carefully consider your own convictions (and even every verse of the Bible itself), compare them to the best factual information and spiritual inspiration you can find, decide, with God's help and guidance, what seems most faithful to you, then live your own life by your own convictions, sharing them with others as appropriate and useful to God and to those others (i.e. not because it makes you feel smart to argue other people into silence).

Greg, although I'm Catholic, I really don't need my faith, the Pope or anyone else to "tell me" that a mother killing her own unborn child is just about as fiendish an act the most hatful devil could ever conceive (no pun intended).

It's something I know down to my core.

As to a "Constitutionally-Based, Representative Democracy", I don't claim to have the right to have my own, personal convictions determine the rights of others.

I'm just hoping that someday people come to their senses all on their own, and demand basic decency be brought back to our country.

Kind of tough though, I admit; when so many are out there telling the young that there is no such thing as an absolute right and wrong, and others are working feverishly to come up with “built to suit” justifications to overcome the occasional bubble of vestigial human dignity and self-respect.

Given the reasons shown in this article that women who have abortions give for their choice, it seems like those who are anti-abortion are advocating that women have children against their will whom they do not have the resources to care for in the first place, and who are unwanted and therefore likely resented. That's not much of a life to offer. It seems that pro-lifers really only care about a fetus before it is born.

I also never hear them advocating for increased sexual education programs for schools or expanding access to sexual health services and contraception, both of which would lower the incidence of unwanted pregnancies and therefore abortions. So, clearly, they don't really care about all those poor, defenseless fetus - or at least not as much as they care about maintaining puritanical prudery.

About one in three American women will have an abortion in their lifetime. (

You probably know one - more likely a few. I'm sure a lot of them are nominally "pro-life." But when it came down to it, they were able to make a choice about their bodies and their lives.

In any case, the only thing that would come of banning abortion would be more unsafe, back-alley abortions. People aren't going to stop having abortions just because they are against the law - it didn't stop them before. And what will you do to them when they do? Lock up the doctors? The women? For how long?

Opposition to improved access to health care takes innocent life. This is another example of the unfortunate truth that for some religious Americans, life begins at conception and ends at birth.

It seems to me that if you really care about the safety and health of women and their children, the real way to do that is to help lower the incidence of unwanted pregnancy, and keep abortion legal and therefore safe.

Planned Parenthood's St. Paul Highland Park Clinic serves the women and families of that community 365 days a year. They even hold a food drive during this annual demonstration which directly supports the neighborhood food clinic - this year collecting 350 lbs. of food! The ANTI-CHOICE protesters? They come once a year to harass women and MEN seeking LEGAL services from Planned Parenthood requiring the City of Saint Paul to unnecessarily spend thousands of dollars and other resources to keep their protest order and safe.

Actually, the anti-choice protesters are there every day to harass patrons. I just wish they wouldn't choose the best parking spots for the Highland Park Library, which is directly across the street.

It's true a small group will pace the public sidewalk out front some days - my point was about a larger concern. Significant City and PP resources are spent when this anti-choice MOB descends on the clinic once a year. C'mon, Rolf, your complaint is about parking at the library?

I find all this drama could easily be solved by MEN using condoms, it's simple,
inexpensive and preventative...why isn't it ever talked about to that point?
And I find it ironic that those posting on your article, having their "debate"
are mostly men. They drone on and on about higher levels of the issue when the basic,
simple solution is in THEIR wallet! Geez, it's good that women have the option,
in the rare instances where pregnancy is the result of a rape or the fetus will
definitely have debilitating birth defects...but to willingly put an end to a
life because it is "inconvenient" is my opinion just wrong. Condoms, condoms,
condoms! Such a Simple Solution! But then again, if MEN did their part in the preventative area of this issue then they wouldn't have anything to argue about. Unfortunately, it falls on the shoulders of women and until the MEN get some kind of pill or use a condom, then women will continue to have to FIGHT for their options. Condoms, condoms, condoms!!

Katherine: I can't do much about the larger moral, legal and religious issues. So I am reduced to concern about loss of my library parking space to people whose literary skills are limited to 4 word signs.
On the other hand, my wife says I need the exercise from walking a little farther.

Someone should write a doctoral thesis on how the anti-abortion folks grabbed the title,
"pro-life." Talk about framing the issue the way you want it.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one to notice that their concern for the living ends starts with conception and ends with birth.

So much easier to project positive qualities onto recipients who cannot disprove your theories of how wonderful they are.