The 66,000 pink and blue flags that filled several acres of Interstate 94, including on the lawn of Grace Free Lutheran Church, in Valley City last week represent the number of elective abortions in North Dakota since the procedure became legal in 1973.
The display was the project of Bismarck couple Eric and Maria Wanchic, who began displaying flags in May at the Bismarck State Capitol Grounds when over 40 volunteers, including several women who identified themselves as post-abortive, spent two days planting all 66,000 flags. Since then the flags have visited Valley City, Jamestown and Belcourt and will visit every major city in the state by October.
The organizers say the purpose is two fold. “We want to raise public awareness about the devastating loss of life, which is about 10 percent of the total current state population," they said in a press release. "(Also) we want to reach out to the women who are suffering, often in silence, after an abortion experience and give them the resources they need for healing.”
In a phone interview Tuesday, Maria said she has been a pro-life activist since she was a teenager. After getting married, she wasn't as involved, but became more into the issue recently after legislation concerning abortion became a controversial topic in the state.
"After the governor signed (three abortion) bills into law, I thought that's a small victory, but there's still a lot to do," Maria said.
In addition to organizing the traveling display, the couple also hopes to increase support available for post-abortive women and others affected by abortion.
The couple has set up a web-site, titled namethem.org, where post-abortive women can name their unborn child and have the name engraved on a permanent memorial to be commemorated next summer.
Maria said that naming the unborn child can begin the healing process by allowing the woman to grieve and find closure. Carol Kling, volunteer at Rachel's Vineyard where she helps post-abortive women who suffer from a form of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome also known as PAS or Post-Abortion Syndrome, has teamed up with the Wanchic's to promote healing through retreats such as Rachel's Vineyard.
Carol had an abortion in her early twenties and spent many years trying to deal with the emotional aftermath. She said she didn't seek help until she “bottomed out." Now, she has devoted her life to helping other woman heal emotionally and spiritually after abortion.
The next Rachel's Vineyard Retreat in Bismarck will be Aug. 23-25. Call Carol at (605) 374-5639 for confidential information.
After October, Eric and Maria plan to build a database of therapists and clergy who have experience and training in counseling those who have been struggling after an abortion experience. Maria said she found very little post-abortive counseling available. Eric, who is a software engineer, will develop a website where people can enter their zip code to find the professional help closest to where that person lives.
“It's vital to have those resources such as counselors, psychologists and clergy easily accessible right away when the person is ready to seek out that help.” says Eric.
Next summer the Wanchics hope to erect a permanent memorial in the Bismarck/Mandan area dedicated to post-abortion healing.
“There will be statues of children playing outside with animals, fishing in a pond, or playing with other children," Maria said. "It will be a place of hope for anyone who's lost a child because as people of faith, we know God has given these little ones a new life in heaven and we all hope to be there one day too.”
Read this story in Wednesday's Times-Record.