I don't often get up to Albertville. It's not that I have anything against the town; indeed, it seems like a nice little exurban community. But when you live in Eagan, you don't frequent the extreme northwest corner of the Twin Cities. And yet Monday night I got in my car and headed off to visit the latest stop on the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Fall Tour.
You may wonder why I had to trek all the way up to Albertville to see the MCCL's fall tour. After all, the Twin Cities has about half the state's population in it; surely there will be multiple events here, right? Well, sadly, not really; there will be a meeting in West St. Paul later in the month, and stops in Waconia and Crystal. But while the event has stops in both La Crescent and Winona, it doesn't stop in Minneapolis or St. Paul.
I wanted to see what the anti-abortion activists had to say that merited a statewide tour, what they wanted to emphasize about the abortion debate, and where they stand. It just seemed the neighborly thing to do. So I got into my car and headed off on 494 to the St. Alban's Parish Center in Albertville for what would be a very short visit with the nation's second-oldest anti-abortion organization.
The St. Alban's Parish Center is a squat, one-story building just off Main Avenue. If not for signage, it could easily be mistaken for a YMCA or community center. As I walked in, a whiteboard pointed me to the MCCL meeting in the main hall, though it wasn't strictly necessary. The main hall was straight ahead, and 12 tables were set with 10 chairs each, ready for a large crowd.
The setup was perhaps overly optimistic; there were 12 people in the room, 13 if you counted me. A couple of MCCL lobbyists chatted amiably with the group; on a table, T-shirts emblazoned with "Abortion is Death" slogans were wrapped up neatly in rolls, while another table was full of anti-abortion literature and petitions.
I took a seat at a table and began to take notes. A few minutes later, Andrea Rau, a lobbyist for MCCL, introduced herself. I told her my name, that I was with Minnesota Monitor, and that I was covering the event. "So I'm sure you'll send me a copy as soon as you're done with it, right?" she joked. I demurred, saying I'd send her the link when it was available. Rau asked, "So are you staying for all of this?" I told her I was.
Rau walked away, while Jordan Bauer, a recent college grad and MCCL lobbyist, began the meeting.
The opening was pretty much what one would expect from an anti-abortion meeting. Bauer attacked Roe v. Wade, saying, "In this ruling, an unborn child isn't a person." She assailed Doe v. Bolton's "very broad definition" of what constituted a health risk to a pregnant woman. And she blasted the Minnesota Supreme Court's decades-old ruling in Doe v. Gomez.
"Even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion on demand would still be legal in Minnesota," she said, claiming that almost 1/3 of abortions in Minnesota are taxpayer-funded, to the tune of $1.4 million last year.
And Bauer praised the latest U.S. Supreme Court ruling on abortion, Gonzales v. Carhart, which outlawed so-called "partial birth" abortion. Bauer was blunt about what her organization saw as the future of abortion law.
"This opens the door up for further regulation of abortion," Bauer said, which shows that there is at least one thing on which anti-abortion and pro-choice activists agree.
At this point, Bauer began to launch into an attack on Planned Parenthood, which performed, according to Bauer, 26 percent of abortions in Minnesota last year. I started to take notes, when Andrea Rau came back to me.
"I'm sorry," she said. "But you'll have to leave."
"I'm sorry?" I replied, a bit confused.
"Well, you see, this meeting is open to the public, but not to the press."
I suppose I could have argued, but I didn't want to make a scene. It was their meeting space anyhow, and they certainly had the right to ask me to leave. So I did, heading back to my car just 15 minutes after I'd entered the building. As I got in, I couldn't help but wonder: What was the MCCL saying that they didn't want people to know about?
* * *
It is strange that the MCCL wouldn't want press coverage. Certainly they want the general public to attend, and members of the press really are just stand-ins for the larger public. A flyer for their October 23 meeting in Waconia stresses the "everyone welcome" message, and encourages visitors to "bring a friend." It doesn't sound like an event they're trying to hide. And the MCCL's own website says that the meetings are "intended to bring chapters, members and interested citizens up to date on matters central to the protection of human life." It certainly sounds like they would want people to know what that message was.
And yet there I was, driving back east on 494, wondering why the heck the MCCL would turn down publicity for their views, even if they were relayed by an admittedly pro-choice fellow like me.
I tried to ask MCCL that very question, of course. But William Poehler, a communications assistant for MCCL, didn't have an answer. "That is our policy. We have no comment on our policy or our meeting," said Poehler in a statement emailed to me.
It's unfortunate, but I suppose I should have expected it.
MCCL has pretty much abandoned any pretense that they're trying to sway minds or win converts. Indeed, they're just trying to hold on to what support they have in a state moving away from them. This past year, the Legislature shifted from pro-life to pro-choice. The legislative action items the MCCL support, including a law that would challenge Doe v. Gomez, are dead-letter items, with absolutely no hope of being enacted.
Meanwhile, when serious issues come up, the MCCL's responses have been bizarre. They responded to the 2006 increase in abortions in Minnesota by issuing a statement saying, "Planned Parenthood has learned how to take advantage of teenagers and young women by marketing its brand and building relationships to create future abortion customers." They blamed scented oils and candles available at some Planned Parenthood sites for the increase, as if women were really choosing to have abortions for a free scented candle.
In short, their reaction aimed for their base. It's obvious that the MCCL is no longer comfortable talking to the vast majority of Minnesotans, be they pro-choice, pro-life or somewhere in the middle. No, MCCL doesn't want the press to come hear them out. They'd much rather talk to 10 staunch supporters than thousands who may or may not agree with them.