Fargo fiasco

Interim police chief appointed despite having once had a girlfriend who had an abortion.

By Rebecca Traister

Published December 7, 2005 11:45AM (EST)

A Broadsheet reader sent us this doozy of a story from Fargo, N.D., where a routine confirmation of an interim police chief was derailed by the breaking news of an abortion that took place 15 years ago.

City commisioners decided unanimously on Monday to confirm Assistant Police Chief Keither Ternes as interim chief. This despite the fact that antiabortion activist Martin Wishnatsky asked the commission to reject Ternes because 15 years ago, the then 24-year-old and his girlfriend decided to end an unplanned pregnancy.

It's odious enough that this could have even come anywhere near being an issue in a confirmation hearing for a local official: Abortion is legal and was legal 15 years ago. But worse is that the challenge to his position was apparently taken seriously enough that Ternes, a 19-year veteran of the police department, felt he had to respond.

Responding to Wishnatsky's allegations that he had "begged his then-18-year-old girlfriend to terminate her pregnancy because it would hurt his career if people knew he had fathered a child out of wedlock," Ternes clarified that the abortion had been a mutual decision and said, "I didn't force her to do anything that she didnt want to do.

Disheartening as it is that Ternes even dignified the charges with a response, he went further, telling city commissioners that he was all right with the issue being raised, since he feels it's the public's right to know everything about their police chief.

"Although it's the issue in my personal life that I regret more than anything else and am ashamed of more than anything else, I would hope that my professional track record and the things that I've done within the community since that time certainly speak for themselves and doesnt undermine or diminish the confidence that you have in me," Ternes is quoted as saying in the Forum.

Worse yet, Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness then felt compelled to make a statement in which he called the abortion "an error in judgment" but not one that "in any way diminishes [Ternes'] professionalism."

At least they confirmed the guy, but could it only happen after public self-flagellation and proclamations of remorse?

In related Fargo news, this Wishnatsky character, a longtime abortion foe, is bound by a restraining order from getting any closer than 150 feet from the Red River Women's Clinic, which, should you be looking for places to donate money this Christmas, sounds like it could use the support.

Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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