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Patrick Springer, Published January 13 2014

Longtime anti-abortion activist Darold Larson dies at age 71

FARGO – Darold Larson, who entered the spotlight as a leading anti-abortion activist and one-time Senate candidate, is remembered by friends and family as a man who lived his deep convictions.

Larson died Wednesday at age 71, and family and friends gathered Monday for a prayer service for the man who once raised money for Jerry Falwell and founded Family Life Credit Services and the Perry Center.

“In so many ways, he became a hero,” said the Rev. Jonas Bundy of Bethel Evangelical Free Church in Fargo, where Larson was a member. “If he believed he was supposed to act, he did.”

Larson was willing to pay a personal price for those actions, which stemmed from what friends and family called a deep religious faith.

The father of three sons once spent a weekend in jail for trespassing after he entered a Fargo abortion clinic a few days before Christmas in 1984 dressed as Santa Claus, with a bag of presents slung on his shoulder.

In 1991, he spent a week in jail for his role in the Lambs of Christ protests at the former Fargo Women’s Health Organization, where abortions were performed.

As an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1992, Larson aired graphic television commercials against abortion, prompting complaints from some viewers and litigation.

“If I am willing to be jailed for my conviction about the right to life for everyone, surely I will be there for the North Dakota elderly and their social security checks,” he wrote in a statement announcing his candidacy.

“In the best sense of the word, he was a maverick,” Bundy said. “He was courageous in the face of adversity.”

Larson’s wife, Patricia, was his partner in advocacy and establishing programs, including those to support unwed mothers like the Perry Center.

“Our dad was somebody we looked up to,” said Joe Larson, one of his three sons, adding that his father was devoted to his family. “He loved his wife beyond measure.”

Larson sparked controversy, and sometimes litigation, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

A jury found that the name of one of Larson’s organizations, F-M Women’s Help and Caring Connection, was misleading. After being cited for contempt of court, he avoided jail by paying a fine and complying with a court order.

“Mr. Larson tried his best to prevent women from getting abortions, which are and were legal,” said William Kirschner, a lawyer who represented the Women’s Health Organization.

“Unfortunately,” Kirschner added, “he violated the law in doing that.”

Joe Larson said his father became less public and less strident in his activism in recent years.

“Certainly he mellowed out in his later years,” he said.

Larson said his parents often took in unwed mothers who had nowhere else to stay, often getting calls in the middle of the night. As a result, they helped many women avoid abortion, he said.

“Some people have said hundreds of lives have been saved by their work and sacrifice,” Joe Larson said. “He and my mom worked in tandem.”

Despite his activism over the years, Larson’s first priority was his family, said the Rev. Matthew St. John, senior pastor at Bethel Evangelical Free Church.

“He never lost sight of his wife and kids being the most precious thing,” St. John said. “They were clearly his first ministry.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522