Minnesota abortion provider helps meet need in South Dakota

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 26, 2010

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- Carol Ball's day begins in the dark, in another state. By the time she arrives at work, crosses a snowy parking lot and enters the austere one-story Planned Parenthood clinic here, she has flown 200 miles to do something no South Dakota doctor will do.

Ball performs elective abortions. She is one of four doctors who travel anonymously, for security reasons, to the lone clinic in a state that has seen some of the nation's fiercest battles over reproductive rights. The work is framed by worry and frustration -- and the knowledge that the politics remain as unsettled as ever.

This is a difficult time for Ball and her colleagues. Last month, Scott Roeder told the jury in his Kansas murder trial that he stalked George Tiller, the nation's most prominent abortion provider, for years before he walked up to him in a church and shot him once in the head.

"If someone did not stop George Tiller, he was going to continue as he had for 36 years," said Roeder, who was convicted of premeditated murder. "The babies, they were going to continue to die."

Roeder, who is scheduled to be sentenced early next month, personifies the worst fears of the small, connected community of doctors that Ball inhabits. Unlike Tiller, she does not do late-term abortions, and she has not received threats. But her trips are carefully orchestrated by security officers, and she declined to allow her face to be photographed for this article.

Thirty-seven years after the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the nation remains deeply divided. To Ball, the national debate has turned her work into a political act.

"I would rather do this without all this hoopla," she says. "I'm dismayed that it's gone on so long. Why don't they just go home?"

She is speaking of the protesters who sometimes stand outside the clinic and whose legislative victories in South Dakota influence how Ball does her job.

But go home? Antiabortion activists have demanded the same of her.

"I don't want them to come. They're coming to kill unborn children," said the Rev. Steve Hickey, pastor of the Church at the Gate in Sioux Falls and a newly declared candidate for Congress. "I don't believe abortion is health care. I find it to be the lowest form of anything that could be called health care."

Sipping coffee aboard a recent flight, Ball describes her state of mind and the state of affairs that carries her in anonymity each month to a clinic where she treats women who drive as many as five hours to see her.

"I think to myself, 'What century do we live in?' " she says.

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