See more of the story

Songs, prayers and laughter sounded outside the Warren E. Burger Federal Building in downtown St. Paul, where a crowd of abortion opponents celebrated the success of a nearly 50-year effort to see Roe v. Wade struck down.

"I was speechless," the Rev. Denise Walker of Everlasting Light Ministries said of the court's decision. "You would think that I wouldn't be, but I was. And just so grateful to God, that the federal government has finally got out of the abortion business. I like the decision because it puts the matter where it belongs."

Opponents of abortion in Minnesota and across the nation celebrated the long-awaited ruling, which they had hoped — and many had prayed — would align with a draft version of the ruling leaked in April. Despite being in the minority of public opinion on abortion access, their activism over decades took the issue from the focus of a fractured group of largely faith-based activists in the '60s and '70s to a fundamental tenet of the Republican Party.

Matt Gillmer
Video (03:52) The Supreme Court stripped away women's constitutional protections for abortion, a fundamental and deeply personal change for Americans' lives after nearly a half-century.

On the day in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Constitution protected a woman's right to an abortion, Gerry Chapdelaine called a friend and they cried.

The nurse and mother, who lobbied legislators and papered communities with brochures for Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL), never imagined abortion could become legal across the country in such a swift, single action. Nearly 50 years later, the nation's high court undid that decision in one fell swoop.

She cried again Friday, although not all of her friends who fought by her side lived to see the moment.

"People have come and gone. So many have died," said Chapdelaine, 88, who lives in Eagan. "It's something we felt could never happen in our lifetime."

Their work helped elect President Donald Trump, who appointed three conservative justices, creating a majority on the high court that favored overturning Roe and sending the issue of abortion access back to individual states.

Activists like Chapdelaine remember how hard it was to bring attention to the issue in the early years. She stationed herself in MCCL's booth at the Minnesota State Fair in the early 1970s, answering a flood of questions from passersby.

During legislative sessions, she had her list of more than two dozen representatives and senators she needed to reach, some of whom she helped persuade to cast votes against abortion. Activists loaded up their vans with their kids and boxes of brochures and hit parishes across their communities.

"We just all worked our butts off. I had a lot of good friends, many of us had large families. We joked that we all just drove around in a bus or a van and delivered materials," Chapdelaine said. "We were just women in vans."

Mary Ann Kuharski was just starting her family when the issue of abortion became part of the mainstream discourse. A friend was surprised that Kuharski, who had been adopted, wasn't more engaged.

"I started looking into it and I was horrified," she said. "What am I going to tell my kids if I didn't do something to counter this?"

She got involved in MCCL in 1970, speaking at events and lobbying legislators. As the mother of 13 children — six of them adopted — she realized her interest was more in promoting adoption and resources for mothers, so she started the Minnesota chapter of ProLife Across America in her living room more than three decades ago, putting billboards up across the state and taking calls from pregnant women and mothers.

Mary Ann Kuharski, shown in 1986, created one of the first statewide organizations opposing abortion in the nation.
Mary Ann Kuharski, shown in 1986, created one of the first statewide organizations opposing abortion in the nation.

Star Tribune file

Like most abortion opponents, Kuharski has no plans to stop her work in Minnesota, which has its own constitutional protection for abortion through the state Supreme Court's 1995 ruling in Doe v. Gomez. But she's relieved that Roe has been overturned, calling it a "scar on the nation."

"For almost 200 years, we protected both the mom and the baby, and we need to do what we can to protect both and not destroy one because it's not wanted or not perfect or whatever the reason," she said.

"We can talk about people's rights, or employment, or labor, or civil rights or taxation, we can talk about all sorts of issues that might be prevalent," said Kuharski. "But if you don't have your life, nothing else matters."

A senior at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis, Grace Evans is newer to the movement, spurred to action after she saw New York City light up its skyscrapers in 2019 in baby colors to celebrate abortion's legality.

She's worked on the issue as an intern at the Minnesota Family Council, and said the Supreme Court's overruling of Roe "will go down in history as a great victory for human rights." But she added that young abortion opponents must continue to help mothers facing unplanned pregnancies.

"My generation will continue to fight for a nation and a state in which women feel so loved and supported that abortion is never even a thought that crosses their mind," she said.

As she attended Friday's demonstration in St. Paul, Evans summed up the day: "Honestly, the greatest day of my life so far."

Staff writer Katelyn Vue contributed to this report.