A new push to defund Planned Parenthood is galvanizing both sides of the abortion debate across Minnesota.
Buoyed by news that Congress could withhold millions of dollars from the state's largest abortion provider, abortion foes are preparing for this month's March for Life in St. Paul with high hopes.
"It's another move in the right direction," said Scott Fischbach, executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), which organizes the annual rally against abortion. An estimated 6,000 people are expected to attend the march, which marks the Jan. 22 anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 abortion ruling.
"Roe vs. Wade will fall," Fischbach said. "It's just a matter of time."
But Planned Parenthood and its supporters are pushing back hard against the defunding threat by House Speaker Paul Ryan last week. On Thursday, the national organization announced a massive fundraising and public awareness campaign, pledging to hold 300 events in 47 states and 150 cities.
"We intend to fight this very, very hard," said Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, which saw donations and support skyrocket after the election. "It is utterly irresponsible to cut people off from the basic health care they need and depend on."
The move against Planned Parenthood is part of a larger congressional plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. In the wake of the November election, a number of state legislatures also have moved to toughen abortion restrictions, including in Ohio, where lawmakers pushed a fetal heartbeat bill that would have banned abortion about the sixth week, long before most women even realize they are pregnant.
Planned Parenthood is a century-old organization that operates 18 clinics in Minnesota, 21 in Wisconsin, 12 in Iowa and one in South Dakota.
"No matter what else happens, we promise one unshakable commitment: These. Doors. Stay. Open," Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards pledged in a statement on the group's website.
Nationwide, federal Medicaid reimbursement made up nearly half the organization's total revenue in 2014, according to the Associated Press. Should that funding be cut, it could mean the loss of more than $13 million for its Minnesota clinics.
There is a long-standing ban on the use of federal funds for abortion services, but Planned Parenthood clinics provide a host of other services: health screenings, counseling, vaccinations, vasectomies, Pap smears and birth control refills.
Last week's announcement from Washington came as no surprise. Both sides in the abortion debate had been anticipating the move since Republicans won the White House and held on to both houses of Congress.
As the election results rolled in, so did the donations and gestures of support for Planned Parenthood.
In an ordinary week, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota might hear from 10 people wanting to volunteer. In the week after the election, organizers said 500 new volunteers signed up. Contributions from first-time donors jumped 1,200 percent. Another $275,000 in donations came from 26,000 supporters during Give to the Max Day in mid-November. The year before there were 980 donors.
"I was so frustrated by how the election played out, and upset. But stewing about it wasn't going to get me anywhere," said Emily Mickelson, 24, of St. Paul, a new volunteer who found herself in a December training orientation so crowded that people had to sit on the floor.
"I realized that instead of complaining about it, I needed to channel my energy and actually do something about it," Mickelson said.
Laura, 33, of Minneapolis, who asked not to be identified by her full name because she works with other nonprofits that are not involved with the abortion debate, said she also was moved to act after the election.
"Like a lot of people, I was … very frightened and very worried that Planned Parenthood would be one of the first bull's-eyes to get some darts thrown at it," she said.
Since the election, she estimates she's made at least 15 donations to Planned Parenthood, all in the name of Vice President-elect and staunch abortion opponent Mike Pence. Every time she felt overwhelmed or grief-stricken, she said, she gave again.
"Becoming a donor — a fervent and active and repeat donor — felt like something I could do when I felt so helpless and so unsure," she said.
On Jan. 21, the day after Donald Trump is sworn in, there will be a Women's March on Washington. In Minnesota, more than 10,000 people plan to join a rally that begins at 10 a.m. at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.
Key health care provider
Of the 9,861 abortions recorded by the Minnesota Health Department in 2015, more than half — 5,048 — were performed at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
But only one of the 18 Minnesota clinics provides abortion services. The rest provide general and reproductive health care at clinics from Bemidji to Mankato to Willmar.
The clinics serve about 24,000 Medicaid patients a year, said Connie Lewis, executive vice president for external affairs at Planned Parenthood Minnesota.
Low-income patients make up 65 percent of the patients, who go to the clinics for birth control, counseling or health screenings. Supporters now worry that eliminating Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood will keep low-income patients from receiving that care.
"Planned Parenthood is part of the fabric of health care in this state," Lewis said.
But for opponents, the focus is on those 5,048 abortions.
If defunding Planned Parenthood cripples the provider, or forces it to shutter some or all of its Minnesota clinics, so much the better, they say.
"We've lost a lot of lives in Minnesota," the MCCL's Fischbach said. "There's excitement on the part of a lot of folks" for an administration and Congress that could name new Supreme Court justices who might vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade. "[Roe] is faulty, it's flawed. Everybody knows it's just a matter of time."
The Jan. 22 MCCL rally at the State Capitol is generating excitement among those who plan to participate.
"I think the energy will be a lot more upbeat," said Alixandra Cogan, 19, of Stillwater, who has braved frigid weather in the past to attend the rally.
"We need to be kind to each other," she said. "Keeping an open heart and an open mind about it is really going to change everything."