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Targeted by Firebombing, Legislation, and Now Vandalism, Montana Abortion Provider Shutters Clinic

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A Montana medical office that provided abortions, among other services, has been forced to close after a vandal systematically broke or slashed practically every object and surface inside. All Families Healthcare saw the destruction of its plumbing and heating systems, plants pulled up by their roots, and holes stabbed through faces in family photographs. The accused vandal, Zachary Klundt, is the son of a former board member of the anti-choice group Hope Pregnancy Ministries. Twyla Klundt resigned after her son’s arrest. We are joined by All Families Healthcare owner Susan Cahill, who is facing the latest threat to her work following decades of providing abortion as part of family healthcare. Another clinic where she worked was firebombed in 1994. The following year, the Montana state Legislature passed a measure known as the Susan Cahill Law to ban physician assistants from providing abortions. Cahill was the only physician assistant providing abortions in the state. The Montana Supreme Court later upheld her right to do so.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Kalispell, Montana, where an attack by a vandal has destroyed one of four facilities in the state that provided abortions.

ALL FAMILIES HEALTHCARE VOICEMAIL RECORDING: You have reached All Families Healthcare. Our business is—no longer exists due to being destroyed by a hate crime.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was the voicemail message patients received after hours, starting earlier this month, when they called their healthcare provider. Early on March 4th, a vandal systematically broke or slashed practically every object and surface inside All Families Healthcare. He destroyed the building’s plumbing and heating systems, pulled plants up by their roots, stabbed holes through faces in family photographs. In a letter to the local paper, owner Susan Cahill wrote, quote, “This person took meticulous time destroying EVERYTHING that was important to me.”

Later in the day, police received a report of another break-in at a local bail bond office. Nearby, they found 24-year-old Zachary Klundt. His shoe tread matched a print found at the health office. When he was arrested, Klundt was carrying a fully loaded pistol with a spare magazine in the holster. He faces arraignment today on four felony charges, including burglary and criminal mischief. Zachary Klundt is the son of Twyla Klundt, a board member of the anti-choice group Hope Pregnancy Ministries. She resigned following her son’s arrest.

AMY GOODMAN: The office that was destroyed on March 4th had just opened three weeks prior to the attack. That’s because Susan Cahill had been forced to relocate after a new owner purchased the building that housed her former office. The executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries has now admitted to buying Susan Cahill’s old building. In a statement to Democracy Now!, Michelle Reimer wrote, quote, “We made a stand for the prolife position in a legal, peaceful and non-confrontational way, purchasing the building in order to advance the cause of life,” she wrote.

It’s not the first time Susan Cahill has faced attempts to stop her from providing abortions. Another clinic where she worked was firebombed in 1994. The following year, the Montana state Legislature passed a measure known as the Susan Cahill Law to ban physician’s assistants from providing abortions. Susan Cahill was the only physician’s assistant providing abortions in the state. The Montana Supreme Court eventually upheld her right to perform abortions, which she has been doing as part of family healthcare for 38 years. Susan Cahill joins us now from her home in Kalispell, Montana.

We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Susan. Can you talk about what happened on March 4th?

SUSAN CAHILL: Well, early in the morning of March 4th, my receptionist came to work and went in the back door and saw that the glass had been broken through and, smartly, didn’t go in, went upstairs to the landlord, who happens to be a lawyer, and said, “We’ve been broken into. Please call 911.” Then she called me. And by the time I got there, the place was swarming with policemen and FBI, and they would not let us go in. And, in fact, I couldn’t go in 'til the next day in the afternoon, and they worked all night long. And I didn't know—you know, you don’t know what to expect; you have no idea about this. And they just kept telling me that “You have to be prepared. There’s a lot of damage.” And at one point, the head police officers asked me if I wanted to see some videos before I walked in, and I declined. I just was anxious. I wanted to go in and see for myself. So we just—that day, we just hung out in shock and waited.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the—when you got the news of the arrest of a suspect in the incident, could you talk about that and also who the suspect is?

SUSAN CAHILL: Well, it just fit a lot of little pieces, of course, together, because I find out Zachary Klundt, the son of Twyla Klundt, who was one of the founders of Hope Pregnancy Ministries and who I have met about five years ago. I invited her for lunch kind of to mend fences, talking about our different views. I went and visited Hope Pregnancy Ministries. I invited her to visit my clinic, which she declined. And so, when I heard it was him, it didn’t surprise me. And then I also found out what I suspected, which was that Hope Ministries had bought my previous office. So, I just put the pieces together. Didn’t take too much work to do that.

AMY GOODMAN: Susan Cahill, you describe what the vandal did. Tell us about the shape of your offices. What did he destroy? What kind of weapons did he have?

SUSAN CAHILL: I can only surmise what kind of weapons he had. And it’s very hard for me to talk about my office because I get very emotional about it, because it was awful. And only three weeks previously, I had—because I had moved, I had painted it, I had new cabinets, I had window coverings. I had friends come; we put up artwork. It was really, really lovely, and I was very happy with how it looked. And so, to see that whole thing destroyed—and I really can’t tell you how much he meticulously worked at breaking absolutely everything that you can imagine. I mean, I even had an award, because I got an award as a risk taker from Lifetime TV back in 2003, and it was this big, heavy glass award, and he smashed it to smithereens. And I suspect that it was a hammer. I don’t know. He put claw—I think the end-of-the-hammer claw marks into all the pictures, my personal family pictures. He broke the glass on absolutely everything that has—had glass, whether it be cabinets or my artwork. He completely destroyed my ultrasound machine, of course. And then there were just papers. The couches had big holes in them. The exam tables had holes in them. The blood pressure cuff was completely broken, bent, destroyed. Tools were completely bent. I mean, he took a lot of care to do all this damage. And then there was—

AMY GOODMAN: Family photos?

SUSAN CAHILL: Family photos were destroyed. I mean, they—I’ve kept them, but they have holes in them. The glass was broken out. I had a picture of me and my son framed, because my son had written a very lovely letter to the editor in 2003, when I came back from doing some work in upstate New York, and I had framed it. And he put holes in both of our faces and destroyed the newspaper article that was framed.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Susan, we invited Michelle Reimer, the executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, to join us on the program today, but she declined. She did issue a written statement, though. She confirmed the mother of the suspect in the attack on your clinic served on the board of directors of Hope Pregnancy Ministries. Reimer said Twyla Klundt has since resigned, quote, “in order to keep Hope Pregnancy Ministries from being unjustly accused or associated in any way with Zach’s actions.” She also wrote Hope Pregnancy Ministries was “shocked and saddened” by the attack on your clinic, calling it “abhorrent and a totally unacceptable manner by which to express opposition to abortion.” Your reaction?

SUSAN CAHILL: Well, of course she’s going to say that. I mean, what is she going—she’s not going to say, “We’re happy about it.” I mean, that wouldn’t be appropriate. But I think that she needs—they need to take—they need to be accountable for what happened. I wrote a letter to the physician, who I’ve known very well for 38 years, who is the the physician for Hope Ministries—Pregnancy Ministries. And I said to him, you know, “I’m a victim here, but so is Zachary Klundt, because babies are born in innocence and love, and they are taught to hate.” And I think that that is where they have to be accountable.

AMY GOODMAN: How was he caught, Zachary Klundt? Not in your offices. And how long do you expect he spent destroying your medical clinic?

SUSAN CAHILL: You know, it’s a very good question, and lots of people who saw the destruction keep saying, “How could one person do so much damage?” So, a lot of people think there’s got to be more than one. I don’t know. It’s hard to grasp those things, because when you can’t imagine doing it yourself, I mean, you just can’t imagine anybody doing something like that. So, I think he must have had to spend a lot of time there. And I don’t know what this other bond—you know, the bail bond place that he got into, what that was about. You know, my first thought is either he was set up to do that so that it looked like a random act; the other thought was that he was drunk with power over what he had just done and continued on. I don’t know.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you now, it’s been decades now that you have been conducting your work amidst enormous hostilities, to the point where the Legislature attempted to write a law specifically aimed at you. Could you talk about the toll it’s taken on you and why you persist so much in maintaining the right to abortion for women?

SUSAN CAHILL: Because it’s the right thing to do. That’s why I have continued on. I mean, I grew up when abortion was illegal, and became legal when I was a young woman. And as a young woman, it made total sense to me that women have to have this medical availability safely. And when I went to PA school from '74 to ’76, I was taught to do abortions during my schooling, which is—doesn't happen anymore. And then when I came out to Montana, the physician who was—who was working at the time, Dr. Armstrong, who was also from New York originally, had vowed, because he saw women die every day, when he was in medical school, of illegal abortion, and he vowed that if it ever became legal, he would do it as part of his family practice. And by the time that I got on the scene, he was so inundated with requests for abortion services that he needed help, and he saw that I had been trained, so we hooked up. It has never been a doubt in my mind how important this is. And when I wrote the letter to the newspaper, I said, rightly so, abortion is a very simple, safe medical procedure, and it saves women’s lives, because we know that women will always seek abortion services, and there is absolutely no reason why women should die from it. And it’s so clear to me, because life is hard, and families and women need choices in their lives. And reproduction is like key to being able to make choices in your life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Susan Cahill, you are a physician’s assistant, and the law that the Montana Legislature passed was directly targeting you, saying a physician’s assistant cannot perform abortion, but then was overturned by the Montana Supreme Court a couple of years later?

SUSAN CAHILL: Correct. What happens is that when abortion became legal, Roe v. Wade said only medical—only doctors, trained physicians, could do abortions, which was in response to the illegal people that were doing abortions before Roe. So—and there weren’t a lot of allied health professionals at the time. We were just starting out—”allied professionals” meaning physician assistants and nurse practitioners, particularly. And so, there weren’t those, so you weren’t going to add them. So then, when they were trying to stop me from doing them, they went to that law. And it took two years for the Montana Supreme Court to say, you know, that’s not what the law was intended to mean. It meant that people who were trained and skilled should be able to do this procedure. So that’s why it was overturned.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Susan, I wanted to play a clip of one of your former colleagues, Dr. Susan Wicklund, who recently closed her clinic in Livingston, Montana. She’s the author of This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor. In 2009, during a talk at Revolution Books here in New York City, Susan Wicklund described how a shortage of rural abortion providers compelled her to travel to five clinics across three states—Wisconsin, North Dakota and Minnesota—to provide abortions, and then anti-choice groups figured out what she was doing. She describes how they came to her house in northern Minnesota and formed a blockade out of cement barrels.

DR. SUSAN WICKLUND: The day that they had put cement barrels in my yard and to try to keep me from going to the clinic, which is the same day that I snuck out of the house carrying a loaded 45, which is the same day I drove, you know, all night long to get to the clinic in Fargo, and then that morning showed up at the clinic—and the protesters, of course, thought I was barricaded in my house, because their buddies, 260 miles away, of course, were holding me captive. And they were quite shocked when, for the first time ever, I stepped out of that clinic with my scrubs on and my lab coat, and I put my fist in the air, and I said, “Yes, there will be clinic today! You are not going to stop this clinic!”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Dr. Susan Wicklund. She went on to describe how the anti-choice extremists went to her daughter’s school and put up posters bearing Susan’s face with the words “Wanted for the murder of children.” Susan Cahill, your response?

SUSAN CAHILL: I know Susan Wicklund very well. My response is, it’s painful, but not surprising. And this is why it’s getting harder and harder for us, as abortion providers, to offer that service, because it’s nonstop. And I don’t know what to say about that other than I just wish that everybody would be—would say this can’t go on. This is a safe, legal medical procedure, and it’s the only medical procedure that is allowed to be demonized continually, and the people who do them to be demonized continually. And it wears you down.

AMY GOODMAN: Susan Cahill, is the FBI looking at this as terrorism?

SUSAN CAHILL: I don’t think that they are looking at it as terrorism. But they’re quiet about what they’re doing, so I have to respect that. I felt that they’ve been very supportive, so I just have to respect that. I don’t know.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about the Hope Pregnancy Ministries. The Montana Human Rights Network has accused Hope Pregnancy Ministries of receiving support from white supremacists. It cites a post by a local resident, April Gaede, on the neo-Nazi site Stormfront in 2009. Gaede wrote, quote, “If you want to do something to help save White babies please donate to this group. I have personally met many of these people and they are some of the most devoted to saving the unborn that I have ever met. … Since our local population is over 95% White you are pretty much guaranteed to be helping to save White babies.” Michelle Reimer, the executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, denied the link in a statement to Democracy Now!. She wrote, “We have no record of Ms. Gaede ever making a donation to Hope Pregnancy Ministries.”

SUSAN CAHILL: Did you want me to comment on that?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Yes, Susan, about this—or at least this supposed link between Hope Pregnancy Ministries and a white supremacist site.

SUSAN CAHILL: Well, again, I—it doesn’t surprise me. And from what I know about that—and it’s only secondhand—is that once it came out and the Human Rights Network pushed it, Hope Ministries backed off and said, “No, we don’t want a connection with them,” just like they’re now saying, you know, “We abhor this violence” to my clinic. I mean, they are going to say that, because it doesn’t make them look very good. They want to look like they’re just these nice little people that are trying to save babies. And I think that they’re very dangerous people.

AMY GOODMAN: Zachary Klundt, what kind of weapons did he have when he went into your office, into your clinic?

SUSAN CAHILL: I don’t know that either, but all I know is that—what was reported, which was that he had on his person—you know, I don’t even know about arms, except that he had a semi-automatic rifle in his car, and he had a semi-automatic, I think, pistol on his person, with an extra round. And I would venture to guess that they were with him at the time, but I’m not sure of that.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about your own personal safety?

SUSAN CAHILL: I absolutely believe that this man—this is what I think happened. The Reimers bought my office, hoping that that would stop me from having a business, because it’s not easy for me to find a place to rent. It took me a long time to find the place on Meridian Road, and—but I did find one. And so, I think that that pissed off—pardon me—the Hope Pregnancy Ministries, and so they decided to destroy my office. And my feeling is that if that had not been successful, because of the incredible violence and hatred that was palpable in my office, I think that they would have destroyed me. That’s how I feel. So, yes, I am nervous about that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And what are your plans now for the future? What’s been the reaction in the—in your community to the attack? And are you planning to seek to try to reopen again?

SUSAN CAHILL: This has been probably the most dramatic situation of my life so far, which is saying a lot, considering I’ve gone through a fair amount. But this has been big. And it feels bigger because it was an attack on me personally from somebody else in the community. And our firebombing in 1994 was from a man from—I think he was from Texas, and he had done it to three clinics. So, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I haven’t made any decisions, and I’m taking the summer off. My phone lines are open; my faxes are open. I talk to patients—mostly, my patients are regular patients—and try and help them with whatever they need, including referrals. And I’m not making any commitment to anything until I really think deeply about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Susan Cahill, I wanted to end by asking you to tell the story behind the painting that was destroyed in your office. It’s the Norman Rockwell painting, Golden Rule, which bears that text: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The glass broken, the painting slashed. What’s the history of this painting, where you first got it and where else it’s hung over the years?

SUSAN CAHILL: Yeah, it’s a good story. Dr. Armstrong and I were at a meeting, a National Abortion Federation meeting in Philadelphia, and we went to the Norman Rockwell Museum. And it’s a small—it’s an interesting museum, and it goes around in a circle, and we kind of both went in opposite directions to come back to the sales desk. And when we got there, Dr. Armstrong was there already, and I came up, and I said to him, “I think that we ought to get The Golden Rule for our office.” And he looked at me, and he just pointed to the salesperson, because she was wrapping it at the time. So, we bought that together. And it was being framed when we had our firebomb in our office. So when we rebuilt, which took five months, that was the first thing that went up in our office in the waiting room, and it stayed there forever. And then, when Dr. Armstrong retired and I opened up All Families Healthcare, he gave it to me to put in my office.

AMY GOODMAN: And that was the painting that was destroyed on March 4th.


AMY GOODMAN: Susan Cahill, I want to thank you for being with us, owner of All Families Healthcare, one of four facilities in Montana that provide abortion. Her clinic was destroyed March 4th. Another clinic where she previously worked was firebombed in 1994. The following year, the Montana state Legislature passed a bill that became known as the Susan Cahill Law to ban physician’s assistants from providing abortion, but the Montana Supreme Court eventually upheld her right to practice abortion, which she has been doing as part of family healthcare for 38 years. A campaign to raise funds for her after the attack has raised more than $62,000 at the website Indiegogo. Susan Cahill, all the best to you. Please be safe.

I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. When we come back, we will be joined by the Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Morris to talk about his new film, The Unknown Known. Stay with us.

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