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66,000 flags represent ND abortions on Capitol lawn

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota Capitol lawn will be painted blue and pink this Memorial Day weekend with 66,000 utility flags representing the number of abortions that have taken place in the state since 1973.

The project, "66K Since Roe v. Wade," is spearheaded by Bismarck residents Eric and Maria Wanchic as a way to raise public awareness "about the devastating loss of life" and help reach out to women who may be suffering after having an abortion.

"Women are coming out more and more in droves and are talking about their experience and how they suffered," Maria Wanchic said Tuesday. "Part of their healing process is to acknowledge the deaths of a real person and go through a grieving process."

The event is named after the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing abortions, but giving states some control over regulating the practice.

The total number of abortions comes from compiled data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state Health Department and estimates from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that works to advance sexual and reproductive health.

Maria Wanchic said they came up with the idea after abortion opponents took to social media sites looking for a way to memorialize the unborn.

She said money for the flags totaling several thousand dollars was donated by various supporters.

The event is also due to recent decisions by the state Legislature.

Lawmakers passed four bills and a proposed constitutional amendment that will go to the voters in 2014. The legislation drew national attention and large opposition, as some say the new laws are the most restrictive abortion laws in the country.

"Definitely the idea is to keep this in the public eye and keep the momentum going to raise public awareness about the issue," she said. "It's not considered a political event, if anything it's a religious event."

The couple say the flags serve as a traveling memorial to the unborn. The flags will remain on the Capitol grounds through Monday and will then travel around the state.

Wanchic said she doesn't know where they will go next, but the couple are donating the flags to Personhood North Dakota, which plans to take them around the state.

The Wanchics have also set up, a website where women who have had an abortion can name their unborn child, which will be engraved on a memorial to be commemorated next summer.

Maria Wanchic said they have received five names so far.

They do not have a location for the memorial, but would like to place it in a Bismarck-area cemetery. They have sent out proposals asking churches and groups to donate land.

"It's meant to be a place where women can go locally to sit down and cry and mourn if they need to, a physical place where they can grieve," she said. "The unborn were persons and no longer with us. We would mourn them just as much as we would mourn anybody who lived a full life. The only appropriate place is in a cemetery."

Carol Kling is also helping the Wanchics with the event. Kling is a volunteer at Rachel's Vineyard, a national nonprofit with a Bismarck office that helps women who have had abortions and are suffering from psychological issues.

Mike Nowatzki

Mike Nowatzki reports for Forum News Service. He can be reached at (701) 255-5607.