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Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service, Published April 03 2013

Abortion petition pair not typical women’s rights activists

GRAND FORKS – They are two Grand Forks men on opposite ends of the abortion issue, but Gary Hangsleben, 67, and Roland Riemers, 69, say they came together to create an opportunity for open discussion.

The pair is behind petitions seeking to put North Dakota’s recently passed abortion laws to a statewide vote – a move they believe will give all residents a chance to speak their minds.

“We just want a good, healthy debate, especially for this issue with so many emotions involved,” said Riemers, the pro-abortion rights half of the duo.

However, others in the abortion controversy have criticized their efforts.

Differing opinions

The pair aren’t your typical women’s rights activists.

Hangsleben is a divorced father of two who calls himself a conservative independent. He has driven truck for 15 years in an attempt to provide funding for the nonprofit agency he directs called The Children’s Center, which provides marriage, divorce and child custody counseling.

According to Hangsleben, a woman’s choice to an abortion isn’t between and her doctor, but the baby’s father as well.

“I am not in favor of abortion,” he said. Hangsleben believes most North Dakotans are pro-life, along with “pro-family and pro-freedom.”

“And I don’t agree with him on that,” Riemers said.

Riemers is chairman of the North Dakota Libertarian Party – a party that believes government should not be involved with regulating abortion.

He is a self-described “fathers’ rights activist” – himself a father of nine and a grandfather of 10 – but has been a member of NARAL Pro-Choice America since before Roe v. Wade appeared on the U.S. Supreme Court’s docket, he said.

“I’ve been watching this social movement for many decades,” Riemers said. “We’ve been losing ground since Roe V. Wade.”


Some aren’t so keen on Hangsleben and Riemers’ strategy.

Red River Women’s Clinic in Fargo, the state’s lone abortion clinic, has come out against the possibility of referrals.

Its director, Tammi Kromenaker could not be reached for comment, but the clinic posted an anti-referral message Tuesday morning.

“… please don’t act like legislators who do not even consult with us on strategy,” the clinic’s note said.

The post said bringing the laws to the polls could interfere with the Center for Reproductive Rights’ litigation strategy in the state. The center is an international legal advocacy organization focused on reproductive rights.

Gathering signatures for the petition also would divert resources that could be applied elsewhere, according to the clinic.

The proclamation “RRWC does not condone and will not support referral, either politically or financially” ended the post.

Riemers says there are pros and cons to the clinic’s strategy but “this is an issue for everyone, not just the clinic.”

In the hopper

As soon as the three abortion bills were signed by Gov. Jack Dalrymple on March 26, Hangsleben and Riemers said they knew they needed to get some sort of referral in the hopper to bring the issue to the people.

Hangsleben says putting the laws to public vote is more democratic than putting it through the courts.

“No one has a bigger voice than anyone else,” Hangsleben said of each eligible resident’s vote.

Hangsleben and Riemers have worked together on initiatives in the past and say they wanted to be sure everything was done right this time.

“But if someone brings something forward that is better, we would have no problem pulling ours,” Riemers said.

The men sent off the petitions to North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger for verification Monday and since have been plotting strategy for collecting the 13,452 signatures required for each law. The signatures must be submitted prior to midnight on July 24. They are in the process of creating a group name, a website and social media accounts.

Riemers says all the planning could be premature as there is no guarantee Jaeger will approve the referrals.

Getting heard

Hangsleben and Riemers consider themselves veterans of the court system, both having been through multiple divorces and legal battles with individuals, cities, counties and other organizations.

“The courts are a crapshoot,” Riemers said, who has appealed six cases to the state Supreme Court and won none. He says if the laws go to court, then it will be two or three attorneys arguing whereas a referral could get everyone involved.

They say their group took a different track choosing to start a grass-roots movement instead of a million-dollar court battle.

Hangsleben says the outcome of a statewide vote or a court decision on the laws could reverberate beyond the state’s borders.

“It’s the perfect storm,” Hangsleben said. “All 49 states and the countries of the world are watching North Dakota right now.”

Riemers said even if their petitions fail, the option of litigation is always there.

“For all we know, the litigation process for this issue will be done by the time a vote would even happen,” he said.

Bills targeted in referral drive

The three bills targeted by the referral drive are:

• House Bill 1456, which prohibits an abortion once a heartbeat is detected.

• House Bill 1305, which prohibits an abortion based on gender or genetic abnormality.

• Senate Bill 2305, which requires a physician performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.

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