Pipelines and Planned Parenthood – A tale of two protests

Minnesota Senior Judge Leslie Metzen threw out trespassing charges against three women, Winona LaDuke, Tania Aubid and Dawn Goodwin this week concluding, “The charges against these three individuals who were exercising their rights to free speech and to freely express their spiritual rights should be dismissed.”

On the other side of the country in a federal court in Washington, D.C., three other women, also exercising their rights to free speech and spiritual rights, are facing up to eleven years in prison. Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, and Paulette Harlow were convicted this week on federal felony charges of conspiracy against rights and violating the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, or FACE Act, for a protest at a Washington abortion clinic in 2020.

The difference in outcomes has everything to do with the subject matter of the speech. The women in Washington were protesting abortion. The women in Minnesota were protesting a crude oil pipeline.

Judge Metzen filed her dismissal of the charges with a very non-judicial memorandum explaining her decision. Metzen is officially retired but obviously still working cases assigned by the court. Her ridiculous memo excuses the illegal behavior of the pipeline protesters based on who they are, not what they did. As “respected members of their tribes and Anishinaabe people,” the three women were simply “exercising their rights to free speech,” and “to criminalize their behavior would be the crime.”

What if the federal court in Washington had the same empathy for the pro-life protesters during the sentencing phase? With a few strike-out/underline edits, the reasoning from Metzen’s memo could easily be applied to their case:

“IN THE INTERESTS OF JUSTICE”, a phrase often spoken but rarely applied to defendants, the less powerful, the voiceless. The State Country is entitled to justice and the fair and impartial application of the law. I have no concern that the State Country, with its resources and power does not receive its share of justice in courtrooms throughout this state country every day. I have spent nearly 40 years playing my part in our system of justice.

These cases and these 3 defendants in particular have awakened in me some deep questions about what would serve the interests of justice here. As a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s what I learned about “Indians” came from TV shows about cowboys and Indians and in school where the Caucasian European view of the world and history was the only one discussed abortion came from feminists like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzug. In the last 20 years I have come to a broader understanding of what we, the now dominant culture did to try to eradicate our indigenous neighbors defenseless babies in the womb. Many of them died from disease, violence, and some probably from a broken heart. I know only enough of this history to wonder how those of us in the “dominant culture” could ever have thought any of these actions were okay or justifiable.

I have a simple and rudimentary understanding of some of the beliefs and values of native people pro-lifers. Their reverence for the earth and what she provides; animals and fish to hunt and catch for food. Plants to gather from the forests for food and medicine. And wild rice, Mahnomen, the sacred food on this land that sustained them through the long harsh winters. Their practices in using these substances did not deplete the resources nor did they pollute the land, air, and water the unborn.

I have no expertise in the values and beliefs of the tribes pro-life groups that call Minnesota and Wisconsin home but I respect and value their presence on this land. Tania Aubid, Dawn Goodwin, and Winona LaDuke Joan Andrews Bell, Jean Marshall, and Paulette Harlow are respected members of their tribes and Anishinaabe people parishes and the Catholic people. Their presence at various gatherings to protest the construction by Enbridge of the Linc 3 pipeline abortion was an expression of their heartfelt belief that the waters or Minnesota the unborn need to be protected from damage that could result from the pipeline abortion. Their protest was expressed by performing a jingle dance and beating a drum standing on the sidewalk in front of an abortion clinic. Their gathering may have briefly delayed construction, caused extra expense to law enforcement who came to clear their gatherings (much of which was reimbursed to Aitkin County by Enbridge), accessibility to the clinic, but the pipeline has abortions have been completed and is operating in spite of their efforts to stop it through peaceful protests.

This court also notes that in other counties across northern Minnesota many of the cases involving pipeline life care center protestors were dismissed outright or continued for dismissal with a small fine and an admonition to not commit a same or similar offense.  In the interests of justice the charges against these three individuals who were exercising their rights to free speech and to freely express their spiritual beliefs should be dismissed. To criminalize their behavior would be the crime.

Free speech should be protected consistently across this state and nation, regardless of the topic.