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Montana lawmaker asks for federal protections for abortion providers

Abortion Pills
Posted at 10:18 AM, Jul 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-11 16:23:18-04

HELENA — Two Montana clinics will continue to provide in-state medicated abortion access regardless of whether the patient is from a state where most abortions are banned; meanwhile, some states look to restrict travel to places where abortion is legal.

Montana State Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, spoke with Planned Parenthood of Montana and other providers in the state ahead of a Friday meeting in Washington D.C. with Vice President Kamala Harris. Sands asked for more information from the White House about what protections the federal government would provide on the interstate level. The federal government needs to clarify what happens in the scenario where a physician provides a woman from another state with abortion medication while in Montana, and then is charged with a crime in a state such as South Dakota.

“Are they going to pull them off to another state,” Sands said. “And put them on trial?”

At the end of June, a freelance journalist leaked an internal memo from Planned Parenthood of Montana, which said the organization planned to stop providing abortion medication to people who travel from certain states. The policy was later confirmed by the Montana Free Press. However, Montana abortion providers Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula and All Families Healthcare in Whitefish said Friday they would continue to serve anyone in the state seeking an abortion in Montana, regardless of what state in which they reside.

Sands was one of five state legislators from various states who spoke with Harris about how future legislative sessions might change abortion rights, or try and define interactions between states where abortion is legal versus illegal.

One panelist, South Dakota Rep. Erin Healy, said some Republican lawmakers in her state are considering trying to restrict people from traveling to other states for reproductive health care. The South Dakota legislature may also attempt to restrict physicians in other states from providing abortions to South Dakotans, Healy said.

However, the threats from other states have not stopped the work of Blue Mountain Clinic and All Families Healthcare. Both clinics offer telemedicine appointments and will mail abortion medication to a Montana address, including to places across the state in Montana cities bordering places such as South Dakota. Both clinics also provide surgical abortion services.

“We’re operating as business is normal right now,” said Nicole Smith, the executive director of Blue Mountain Clinic. “We are legal in Montana and we are providing the care that we know to be legal in our state.”

“I am making a clear, unabashed statement,” said Helen Weems, a nurse practitioner and founder of All Families Healthcare in Whitefish. “Providing health care services to those who travel to Montana is legal, it centers the needs of pregnant people, and it is the right thing to do."

Weems helped reopen All Families Healthcare, alongside Susan Cahill, a longtime abortion provider in Kalispell. People do not need to drive to Whitefish for services, Weems said. If they can get to a border town within Montana, All Families Healthcare will work with them.

Since the Dobbs decision, which returned the power to outlaw abortions to state lawmakers, the number of people seeking care from other states is on the rise, Weems said. Some of the women making appointments feel judged, she said, while others are outraged.

The nurse practitioner spoke with a woman Friday who told a familiar story, Weems said. The woman was a mother of two, who lost her job due to the pandemic. She was pregnant, her partner was not supportive, and she needed abortion services.

“If she had a third child, she feared she would become homeless,” Weems said.

As some states maintain legal abortion, Harris said the federal government wanted to uphold the right to free travel between states and protections for providers.

However, when Sands spoke with Planned Parenthood of Montana, the group said its policy regarding medication abortion wouldn’t change until the federal government makes concrete protections for providers, Sands said.

Despite abortion remaining legal in Montana after the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court, Sands said, nobody should feel that abortion is safe in Montana. In a June meeting of the Montana State Legislature's Children, Families, Health and Human Services Interim Committee, a proposal to codify access to abortion into Montana law failed to pass as legislators voted along party line, with Democratic lawmakers supporting the codification and Republicans opposing it.