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On the 36th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, a man smashed his SUV into the entrance of the Planned Parenthood office in St. Paul this morning.
Although staff members have gotten used to protests, particularly on the anniversary of the ruling, "we certainly don't expect this sort of thing," said Sarah Stoesz, the president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. ""It's never happened before and we don't expect it to happen again."
The 32-year-old man was arrested and is expected to be charged Friday on suspicion of aggravated assault, said police spokesman Peter Panos.
"We think it's intentional because of Roe vs. Wade," Panos said. "He's not saying much. He was praying or chanting when the officers arrived."
Panos also said the incident was unusual. "Usually we have some demonstrations there on this day, but someone doing actual damage is very, very rare," he said.
Several employees were in the building at the time, said Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kathi Di Nicola. She said the SUV hit the front door of the clinic two or three times, damaging the clinic's front door and surrounding stonework.
When Di Nicola arrived at the clinic, she said the man had gotten out of the SUV and was pacing around it, holding a crucifix and chanting. "He was agitated and he was saying, 'shut down this Auschwitz,' " she said.
About 7:40 a.m., the man drove his truck onto the sidewalk in front of the office and rammed into the front door of the office on Ford Parkway, Panos said.
"The damage ended up being minor and things were cleaned up while we diverted patients to another entrance," Stoesz said. "It shook people up a little bit, but the staff responded in a very calm way."
In addition to the pickup driver, the Planned Parenthood staff had to contend with about 60 anti-abortion protesters who tried to prevent patients from entering the building, Stoesz said.
"The irony is that if those protesters, like this man, would help us assure all people have access to reproductive health care, it would reduce the need for abortions," she said.
The protesters left later this morning, headed for the state capitol, where an annual rally against abortion is scheduled later today.
"Abortion is a minor part of what we do," accounting for only about 5 percent of the medical procedures performed at the clinic, Stoesz said.
The clinic is the only one in the state where Planned Parenthood performs abortions.
-- Bob von Sternberg