For people by now accustomed to the orange utility flags lining Minot's many worked-upon roadsides, expect to see a lot more in pink and blue: around 66,000 of them.
Rather than denoting underground cables and pipes, each of these will represent an abortion that has taken place in North Dakota since the Supreme Court's "Roe v. Wade" decision that legalized the procedure was handed down in 1973.
"We use it as a way to show through an artistic representation what 66,000 lives lost looks like," said Maria Wanchic, a Bismarck resident who, with her husband, Eric, started up the "66K Since Roe v Wade" flag campaign earlier this year. "When you see an ocean of pink and blue flags, that number becomes a reality to you."
In this May 2013 photo submitted by Eric and Maria Wanchic, some of the 66,000 colored flags put out as part of the couple’s “66K Since Roe v. Wade” campaign are on display across from the State Capitol building in Bismarck. They are meant to represent the estimated number of abortions administered in North Dakota since the Supreme Court laid down its 1973 decision in the “Roe v. Wade” case, effectively legalizing abortion up until the point of viability. The flags will be planted in Minot tomorrow, remaining on display around town until next Tuesday.
The group's figure comes from Johnston's Archive, an online data listing which Wanchic said got its statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Guttmacher Institute. Over a span of 40 years, the number breaks down to an average of four procedures a day.
"The whole abortion issue has been an issue near and dear to my heart since I was a teenager," she explained. "With all the bills and issues going on at the Capitol it was very much a hot topic," inspiring her to become more involved. She had been among those testifying before the Legislature as that body mulled over several bills which would together virtually eliminate clinical abortions in the state.
The bills they passed were signed into law by Gov. Jack Dalrymple in March, requiring doctors to have hospital-admitting privileges and making it illegal to perform an abortion if a heartbeat could be detected as early as six weeks or for any stated eugenical considerations. The laws were subsequently blocked from implementation by a judge, and are currently locked in a legal wrangle that has drawn the involvement of national-level groups on both sides of the question.
"We're not really part of any big pro-life organizations," said Wanchic, adding that 66K is not an officially recognized group either. Putting up the funding for their flags themselves and with contributions from friends and family, the couple informally enlists a variety of groups and organizations for help spreading the word and putting up flags.
Tim Knutson is the point of contact for the event in Minot, formerly a pastor at Northland Harvest Church and a board member for Dakota Hope Clinic, a pregnancy resource center opening today at the Main Medical Building. Reachable at 833-8591, he said volunteers will be meeting outside of the Oak Park Shopping Center on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Because there are so many of the things, flags will go up at various parts of town, where space is available. "Every city's been pretty different," said Wanchic, with flags fluttering in bunches outside of businesses, churches, residences and private schools around the state. They are all put out and eventually taken back up by volunteers. "It takes quite a few," with even 100 volunteers needing around three or more hours to stick out such a large number of flags.
They will be pulled back up next Tuesday. Following their collection, participants will meet at the shopping center for a 7 p.m. closing ceremony. More information on "66K Since Roe v Wade" can be found at its Facebook page.