Each Jan. 22, the date back in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion, foes of the procedure locally and nationally hold large, fervent protests. ¶ Thursday was no different in St. Paul, where thousands of abortion foes gathered at the State Capitol, and in Washington, D.C., and many other cities. The rallies came at a time when the ascent of a president who supports abortion rights has heightened concern -- and conviction -- among opponents of the procedure.
This year, the 36th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade started with a bang -- literally -- at St. Paul's Planned Parenthood clinic.
Early in the morning, a man with a history of mental illness smashed an SUV into the entrance of the Planned Parenthood office on Ford Parkway before it opened.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Kathi Di Nicola said that when she arrived at the clinic, 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.
Matthew Derosia, 32, of Cottage Grove, was arrested and is expected to be charged today with aggravated assault, said police spokesman Peter Panos. According to court records, Derosia has been civilly committed for mental illness at least nine times since 2004.
The SUV left scuff marks and cracked wood in the clinic's front-door frame.
Operations returned to normal well before the last police officer left the scene at 10:15 a.m. A security official monitored cameras from behind a desk near the front door, and blue-vested escorts led patients into the clinic.
According to images captured by the clinic's surveillance cameras, the driver of the Ford Explorer drove west toward the building on the sidewalk. He took a sharp right around a short brick wall in front of the clinic and struck its front entrance at 7:42:07 a.m.
The footage captured him putting the vehicle in reverse and then back into drive, whereupon he hit the door frame at least one more time before getting out of the SUV and walking back and forth along the sidewalk with a crucifix in his right hand.
Although staff members are accustomed to protests, particularly on the anniversary of the ruling, "We certainly don't expect this sort of thing," said Sarah Stoesz, president and chief executive officer of the regional Planned Parenthood organization. "It's never happened before, and we don't expect it to happen again."
Panos agreed. "Usually we have some demonstrations there on this day, but someone doing actual damage is very, very rare," he said.
Protesters condemn incident
Separately, about 60 abortion foes picketed at the clinic within an hour of the crash. Rally organizer Brian Gibson, executive director of Pro-Life Action Ministries, called Derosia's actions "contrary to all that we hold dearly. It was the act, in my opinion, of a deranged mind. We condemn all violence that could harm human beings, whether they be employees of Planned Parenthood or the unborn that are killed there."
The protesters next headed to the State Capitol, where they joined several thousand other abortion opponents.
"We stand here today to give voice to the voiceless," said Republican Norm Coleman. "To reaffirm our commitment to young women in difficult circumstances."
Coleman said scientific breakthroughs are allowing new approaches to things such as stem cell research that allow abortion opponents to "reject any attempt to use taxpayers' dollars to fund the destruction of the human embryo."
Gov. Tim Pawlenty pointed to bipartisan progress in passing the Women's Right to Know legislation, which requires a waiting period and information to be provided to a woman before she receives an abortion as evidence of progress. He urged the Legislature to leave in place other legislation that provides positive alternatives to abortion.
"We are proud to stand with you for this cause and for this purpose: affirming the culture of life," Pawlenty said. "Take heart, change will come. Life will prevail."
Both the Minnesota House and Senate are controlled by Democrats, most of whom support abortion rights. Still, MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach said the group will push for several pieces of legislation this year.
For their part, abortion rights groups hope to preserve funding for family planning, women's health care and comprehensive sex education.
In Washington on Thursday, tens of thousands of abortion opponents rallied on the National Mall amid concerns they could face political setbacks under President Obama.
In a letter posted on their website, organizers invited Obama to speak at Thursday's rally. "America needs your strong leadership as president of all the people to stop the intentional killing of an estimated 3,000 pre-born boys and girls each day," the letter stated.
Obama didn't attend, but he issued a statement saying the government "should not intrude on our most private family matters" and reaffirming his support for abortion rights.
In contrast, former President George W. Bush regularly voiced support for those attending the rally.
Staff writers Lora Pabst, Anthony Lonetree, Mark Brunswick and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Bob von Sternberg • 612-673-7184