Montana no longer an "oasis in the abortion desert"

May 29, 2014

The All Families Healthcare office was broken into in early March and vandalized to an extent that made it unable to reopen. This has been the only medical office in the Flathead Valley to offer abortion services.

The break-in prompted the Montana Human Rights Network and NARAL/ProChoice-Montana to raise funds to help Physicians Assistant Susan Cahill who runs the office, cover the costs of the damage.

Cahill told Flathead Reporter Katrin Frye during a March interview that she had received an overwhelming amount of support, but that she was unsure about reopening the her office because the vandalism was so personal. Cahill said everything was smashed, including faces in family photos.

If the Kalispell office permanently shuts its doors Montana will have lost two abortion-providers in less than 6-months, leaving 2 providers in the state. Currently Planned Parenthood offers abortion services in Helena and Billings, and limited services in its Great Falls and Missoula offices. The Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula also offers abortions. In October of 2013 a Livingston doctor’s office providing abortions closed its doors.

“We don’t really have a pipeline of providers willing to jump in and take over when someone else is closing their practice, or when they are forced to close outside of their, you know, own volition. There is no pipeline really for other providers to jump in and step up to the plate, for very obvious reasons; it’s a dangerous and very, very difficult job,” said Executive Director Maggie Moran of NARAL/ProChoice Montana.

Moran said this region of the country is referred to as an “abortion desert.”

“A lot of the states that surround us only have one provider. So, 4 providers is quite an oasis in perspective.”

Physicians Assistant Susan Cahill was running All Families Healthcare as a primary care medical office which also offered abortions. The office was broken into and vandalized in early March shortly after it had moved into a new location. It has not reopened.

Cahill’s office was one of a string of abortion clinics attacked by an arsonist in the 1990’s. The office was damaged at that time, but reopened.

Cahill is also one of three people featured in a film called “On Hostile Ground” which came out in 2001. Friday the 30th Pro-Choice Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network are hosting a screening of this film in Kalispell.

“We really wanted to take some time, and we feel that now is a good moment for people to reflect on what happened, and to also give a space for Susan to really tell her side of the story, and start looking to the future,” Moran said.

Moran said the film looks at some of the challenges facing medical professionals offering abortions as of 2001. She said they’ll be talking about what’s changed in 13 years, and what’s stayed the same.

Moran said Montana currently has a buffer zone law that requires protesters at abortion clinics to be at least 20-feet away. She says a similar law is being challenged in Massachusetts.

“I think there’s the general feeling that this violence is something in the past,  and that maybe we don’t need laws like these buffer zones anymore, maybe we’ve gotten to a better place that’s less violent and less intimidating. But then we have such a poignant example that really is just so fresh in everyone’s minds here in Montana,” Moran said.

The Friday event at The Museum at Central School begins with a reception that is also a fundraiser for ProChoice Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network. The film starts at 6:15 and is free.