MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
All Families Healthcare was family practice in Northwestern Montana that also provided abortions. It was the only clinic to do so in the vast Flathead Valley. That made it a target. It was vandalized last year to the point it had to be shut down. Now the facility's owner says she probably won't reopen it. Corin Cates-Carney of Montana Public Radio has the story.
CORIN CATES-CARNEY, BYLINE: There's never been a welcome mat for abortion service providers in the Flathead Valley. Susan Cahill started providing abortions in 1976 in the first clinic to provide the service in the Flathead.
SUSAN CAHILL: But that had an arson fire, and then we rebuilt that, you know? And then the anti-choice people tried to arrest me for doing abortions when I wasn't a doctor.
CATES-CARNEY: She performed abortions as a physician's assistant for 38 years until one night in March of 2014 when police testified Zachary Klundt took a hammer to the photos in Cahill's office, poured iodine on the floor, tossed files from cabinets. Klundt damaged the building's heating and plumbing and discharged a fire extinguisher. He said he broke into the clinic looking for prescription drugs. Everything was destroyed, including a photo reading, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
CAHILL: I've worked since I was 17. I mean, I - everything I've had, I've worked for.
CATES-CARNEY: Flathead County stretches over 5,000 square miles in the northwest corner of Montana. Along the main roads, you can see crosses, churches and large 10 Commandment billboards. Cahill's clinic was in Kalispell, the hub of the Flathead, population 20,000. Its largest employer is Kalispell Regional Medical Center. In a town full of health care professionals, Cahill was the only one providing abortions.
CAHILL: But because I was the only one, I got targeted.
CATES-CARNEY: Cahill's clinic was general family practice, and her patients must now find other health care in Kalispell. But for abortion care, the options are limited.
CAHILL: It's the only medical health care concern that has few providers.
CATES-CARNEY: According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2008, American women traveled an average of 30 miles to access abortion services. Today, a woman in Kalispell would need to drive 120 miles one way to Missoula to get an abortion. And some women are, says Melissa Barcroft of Planned Parenthood in Missoula.
MELISSA BARCROFT: Any time a provider stops providing services, the need doesn't go away. Patients still need that care.
CATES-CARNEY: Barcroft says it's frustrating.
BARCROFT: I know from talking to our providers that we have seen a definite increase in patients from the Flathead area.
CATES-CARNEY: Cahill says she worries most about poor women or those from the town of Browning on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation.
CAHILL: Now you've got people that don't have - are on Medicaid that are from Browning that are teenagers. It's much harder for them to get to Missoula. I mean, I used to give gas money for people to go home. It's just a harder struggle for them.
CATES-CARNEY: Cahill says plenty of local physicians can perform abortions, but they're afraid. Samantha Avery trained under Cahill at All Families Healthcare. At the time, Avery thought about going to medical school to pursue a career like Cahill's.
SAMANTHA AVERY: I know she really wanted me to be the one to take over her clinic, and even before all this, I told her, like, I just don't know if I could do that to my family - as in, my future family. Like, I can't be the Susan Cahill. I'm not that brave of a person.
CATES-CARNEY: She decided instead to work for the public health department in Flathead County. She says it was hard for her to watch Cahill lose everything so quickly, and the weight of the community's opposition to abortion is hard to counter. She points to Zachary Klundt, who was convicted in the attack against the clinic. His mother was on the board of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, which advocates for alternatives to abortion. She resigned after the attack. Hope Pregnancy Ministries executive director Michelle Reimer says what happened to Cahill and her clinic was terrible and totally against her group's mission.
MICHELLE REIMER: There's not a place for it in a Christian organization. And then there's always going to be the outlier, the one who represents us poorly or who says the wrong thing, or, as we all would with a very volatile topic like abortion, express ourselves passionately rather than logically. And I think we see that on both sides.
CATES-CARNEY: Reimer says the biggest part of her faith is compassion and telling a woman regardless of what she chooses, she is loved. Last month, Klundt was sentenced to 20 years with 15 years suspended. He was also ordered to pay restitution. In the courtroom, Klundt read Cahill an apology.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ZACHARY KLUNDT: I cannot even believe that I did that to another soul, but I did it to you. I know what it's like to live with fear, and for me to do that to you is awful, and I am truly so sorry.
CATES-CARNEY: He said his actions do not represent his faith. Susan Cahill says for women in the Flathead Valley, getting reproductive care is not any easier now that Klundt is sentenced. Her clinic is still gone. For NPR News, I'm Corin Cates-Carney in Missoula.
BLOCK: This story is part of a reporting partnership of NPR, Montana Public Radio and Kaiser Health News.
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