The state of Montana has just six abortion providers since the closure of Mountain Country Women’s Clinic in Livingston this fall. Now, one of those six clinics has been viciously vandalized, and abortion rights supporters worry that the action could signal another surge in clinic violence.
All Families Healthcare has only been at its new building in Kalispell, Mont., for a few weeks, but it’s already in complete dishevel due to a break-in and vandalism of the clinic. Authorities arrested 24-year-old Zachary Klundt for the crime on Tuesday, while he was allegedly breaking into another business in the neighborhood.
Two break-ins by the same suspect could potentially make the attack at All Families appear to be a simple robbery. However, employees state that the damage done to the clinic makes it pretty clear that the damage was intentional and deliberate rather than a simple looting.
“They broke every picture that I had. Everything that was glass was broken. There’s been complete disregard for anything,” said Susan Cahill, the physician’s assistant who runs the clinic, walking through and surveying the damage with local new reporters.
“They said we’ll need to brace ourselves before we see it,” Cahill’s husband, Steve Martinez, told the Missoulian. “This is local, and it’s very personal toward Susan.”
Although it was revealed that the suspect did in fact rob the clinic of money and medical supplies, he also apparently took documents from Cahill as well, which were found in his home by police. The Missoulian also reports a very deliberate streak in his clinic destruction. “[A] yellow powder covered almost everything,” the paper reports, also describing damage to the sewer line, furnace and water heater, and quotes another report that states, “[T]he perpetrator covered everything in the primary portion of the medical clinic with iodine and then sprayed a fire extinguisher over it all.”
Local clinics have been very supportive of Cahill, standing by her and demanding an end to the intimidation of abortion providers. “Susan Cahill’s dedication to women and their families may be vilified by portions of our population, but it is through the strength of our Movement and the bravery of our nurses, providers, and staff that Montana women are able to access safe & legal abortion services,” said Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula.
“Blue Mountain Clinic and the Pro-Choice Movement in Montana will not be intimidated by threats or acts of violence, and these acts of violence in Kalispell serve only to make us more committed to our work—protecting individual agency and choices in healthcare.”
Until the investigation closes, it will remain unclear if the fact that the clinic provided abortions was in fact a motivator behind the break in, but NARAL Pro-Choice Montana and the Montana Human Rights Network can’t help but notice that the suspect is in fact the son of one of the board members for a local crisis pregnancy group called Hope Pregnancy Ministries.
Even if the fact that abortions were offered by the clinic was the reason behind the attack, it doesn’t necessarily signal a new surge in attacks on clinics. Still advocates have reason to worry when they hear about a vandalism or break in. In 2012 there was a number of violent attacks against abortion clinics, most of them involving burglary, arson or both, with multiple incidents in Georgia, another in Wisconsin, and one in Florida, all apparently unrelated.
Is the Montana clinic incident a signal of more attacks to come? For the sake of the safety of patients, doctors and local communities, let’s hope not, but also remain on guard. The massive, unnecessary restrictions on abortion are already doing the work of shuttering many clinics across the country, just as anti-choice politicians and activists had hoped. Targeted physical attacks on buildings, especially in the extreme low-access areas in the Mountain, Midwest and Southern region, could literally put abortion out of reach if a zealot is successful.
“Physicians and other clinic workers should not have to take extraordinary measures to protect themselves at work; all workers should be able to go to their place of employment without fear,” states NARAL Pro-Choice Montana Executive Director Maggie Moran.
She couldn’t be more right.
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