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Patrick Springer, Published September 27 2010

Red River Women's Clinic draws dueling demonstrations

Hundreds of people marched quietly through downtown Fargo in a procession Sunday behind a statue of the Virgin Mary and a cross in a “Walk with Christ for Life.”

The Eucharistic procession, led by Bishop Samuel Aquila, began after a Mass at the Cathedral of St. Mary and paused in front of the Red River Women’s Clinic, North Dakota’s only abortion provider.

In front of the clinic, a group of pro-choice supporters staged their own service, as the two opposing sides over abortion recited their prayers in peaceful but determined defiance of one another.

As fragrant incense filled the air, the bishop approached the clinic and prayed as he sprinkled holy water, with some droplets landing on the women’s clinic supporters.

Onlookers snapped photographs as the dueling prayer services proceeded amid clashing symbols.

A priest dressed in black stood silently among clinic supporters as he held a sign aloft: “Pray and fast to end abortion in North Dakota.” He was surrounded by competing signs, including one with a coat hanger and the words “Never again.”

Once the Catholic prayer service was over, the procession continued west down First Avenue North as the faithful walked back to the cathedral, where the bishop concluded the service with a benediction.

Afterward, participants on both sides of the contentious abortion issue spoke about their beliefs.

“The primary purpose of the march is to give witness to the dignity of life,” Aquila said outside the cathedral, adding that the abortion clinic represents the “culture of death” and Christians must stand for a “culture of life.”

“Even reason and science would point to the truth that life begins at conception,” the bishop said. “God is the one that gives the gift of life,” and people should not have the power to take that gift away.

Connie Brandt came with her husband from Wahpeton to take part in the “Walk with Christ for Life.”

“We need to respect all life, even the people who are heckling us in the street,” she said. “We’re all human beings. We’re all created by God.”

A few blocks away, supporters at the abortion clinic kept their own vigil.

“Medical decisions need to be kept private, and religion needs to be kept out of medicine,” said Caitlin Jones, a volunteer escort at the clinic.

She said she was offended by the bishop’s holy water. “I don’t care if he throws it at the sidewalk, but when he throws it in people’s faces, that’s assault,” she said.

A woman standing nearby who declined to give her name said, “The bishop isn’t God.”

The march drew 700 to 800 people, according to an estimate by Rachelle Sauvageau, director of the diocesan Respect Life Office.

This year marked the 18th time the procession was held in Fargo, and Sunday marked the fifth day of 40 Days for Life, the ecumenical effort of prayer, fasting and vigils outside abortion clinics.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522