KALISPELL – For NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, a group that advocates for abortion rights, the connections between what has happened this year to the Kalispell family medical clinic that provided the only abortion services in the Flathead Valley, and the anti-abortion Hope Pregnancy Ministries of Kalispell, is alarming.
The Montana Human Rights Network recently identified Michelle Reimer, executive director of Hope Pregnancy Ministries, as the purchaser of a Kalispell building that had long housed physician assistant Susan Cahill and All Families Healthcare.
Cahill, who did not know the identity of the new owner then, was notified she would have to vacate the premises on or before the closing of the sale. A physician assistant in Kalispell for nearly 40 years, Cahill has said she believes the building was purchased, and she was told she would have to leave it, in hopes that she would decide to retire rather than open a new office.
Three weeks after she moved her practice into a different building, Cahill’s clinic was broken into on the night of March 3 and/or the morning of March 4 and heavily vandalized.
The man police arrested hours later in connection with the break-in is the son of a woman who was on the board of directors of Hope Pregnancy Ministries.
That woman, Twyla Klundt of Columbia Falls, resigned her position on the board the day after her son’s arrest. Zachary Jordan Klundt, 24, has been charged in Flathead County with three felonies in connection with the break-in.
NARAL says Hope Pregnancy Ministries “continues to be the cause of great concern and skepticism.”
“We have feared that pockets of violent extremism would resurface through anti-choice CPCs (crisis pregnancy centers),” Maggie Moran, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana, said. “It’s no secret that there are people who have wanted Susan out.”
NARAL Montana has called on authorities to treat the break-in and vandalism as a federal crime under the 1994 Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. Among other things, the law prohibits trespassing on the property of, and vandalism to, reproductive health care clinics.
Reimer says she and her husband adhered to Montana commercial tenant laws and regulations during the purchase of the building where Cahill previously leased space, and the eviction of All Families Healthcare from it.
Reimer declined a phone interview for this story, but said she would answer questions submitted to her in writing. She issued this statement about the break-in:
“Hope Pregnancy Ministries was shocked and saddened by the vandalism of the office of All Families Healthcare,” Reimer said. “The news that the suspect for this vandalism was the adult son of one of our board members was devastating. This board member immediately resigned from the board of directors after hearing of her son’s alleged involvement.
“Hope Pregnancy Ministries opposes all lawlessness and violence against people or property under any circumstances. Such actions should be punishable to the fullest extent of the law.”
As far as purchasing the building that previously housed All Families Healthcare, which provided first-trimester abortions among its services, Reimer said:
“In February, my husband and I purchased the building where All Families Healthcare was located. All Families Healthcare was notified by the former landlord that the building was being sold 90 days prior to the closing, fulfilling their contractual agreement. Montana commercial and tenant laws and regulations were adhered to during the process. All Families Healthcare found accommodating space that met their purposes within a reasonable amount of time.”
Earlier this week, Cahill was preparing to send out postcards to her patients notifying them she was available for consultation, filling prescriptions and suggesting referrals.
But otherwise, All Families Healthcare is closed for now, while Cahill takes a few months to decide whether to reopen.
Meantime, her patients will have to find other alternatives for their health care.
“I am taking the summer off to ponder this deeply,” said Cahill, whose Kalispell offices were also firebombed in 1994.
She has put what little she could salvage from the wreckage inside her clinic into storage in case she decides to reopen, Cahill said, but it isn’t much.
“Ninety-five percent of everything was completely destroyed,” Cahill said. “I couldn’t believe the extent, just layers and layers of damage.”
Flathead County prosecutors have said that after the offices were trashed, everything in the main portion of the clinic was doused in iodine and sprayed with a fire extinguisher.
“The person who vandalized her clinic did so methodically and deliberately,” NARAL’s Moran said. “Equipment, records, the plumbing and heating system – all destroyed. And all of her personal things were maliciously torn and stabbed. These were violent acts meant to scare and intimidate, and they were done by someone who was taught to hate with ferocity.”
In its own statement, NARAL Montana said, “Montanans should be extremely concerned about these events and the level of deception that appears to be at work. Intentionally blocking access to health care for hundreds of people because of disagreement regarding a legal medical procedure is a very serious act.”
Hope Pregnancy Ministries, which says its mission is “to honor Christ by providing an alternative to abortion through life-affirming education and intervention, offering help and hope to women in need,” operates Clear Choice Clinic in Kalispell.
“Our medical clinic … provides free pregnancy diagnosis, nursing consultations and (sexually transmitted infections) testing and treatment under the direction and supervision of a licensed physician,” Reimer wrote to the Missoulian. “Clear Choice Clinic does not profit from a woman’s reproductive choices.”
Reimer said Hope Pregnancy Ministries served more than 600 people last year, and “is strongly supported by many people, churches and businesses in our area.”
Last year, NARAL Montana released a 27-page report summarizing its own five-month investigation into the 20 crisis pregnancy centers that were located in Montana in 2012.
It charged that the centers are “fraught with problems, most notably biased and incorrect information provided to clients, failure to abide by applicable regulations to protect consumers and their distinct connection to extreme right-wing political groups.”
NARAL’s investigation, it went on, “concluded that many of these facilities present themselves as legitimate medical clinics providing a broad range of comprehensive and caring services when, in fact, they use deceptive and misleading tactics to promote an anti-choice agenda.”
Said Reimer, “Hope Pregnancy Ministries believes that no woman in Montana should feel that she has no choice but to abort her pregnancy. Women should have access to alternatives to abortion. Therefore, we will continue to focus our energies on providing free medical and maternal/infant care services to women seeking alternatives to abortion in a respectful and caring environment.”
At approximately 6 p.m. March 4, while investigators were still processing the crime scene at All Families Healthcare, a Kalispell bail bondsman located a few blocks away called police to report someone was trying to break into his office.
Responding officers located Zachary Klundt, who matched the description given by the bail bondsman, in the area. Police say Klundt was armed with a handgun loaded with a full magazine, and had a spare full magazine on him as well.
Prosecutors say Klundt’s shoe tread pattern matched those found at All Families Healthcare. They also say a search of Klundt’s residence turned up several boxes of medical supplies and documents that Cahill identified as coming from her clinic.
Klundt is charged with felony burglary, felony theft and felony criminal mischief in connection with the break-in at All Families Healthcare. He is also charged with felony attempted burglary at the bail bondsman’s office.
Meantime, a fundraising effort at Indiegogo.com launched by the Montana Human Rights Network, that had set out to raise $25,000 to help Cahill – now jobless and still facing bills associated with the move and remodeling of the new office space – had nearly tripled that goal.
More than $73,000 had been donated as of Wednesday, with 10 days remaining in the effort.
At the website, Cahill wrote two weeks ago that she “was not comfortable having people donate to me who are doing so with the understanding that I will be reopening my office. I do not know what I am going to do at this point. I am heartbroken, I am scared, and I don’t know if anyone in Kalispell would rent to me.
“But I am very dedicated to my work, so stopping at this point, and in this way, is not an easy decision. I have decided to take the summer off and see how I feel come fall.”
Cahill added that she told Moran she would be “more than willing to spend some of the money that is being contributed to promoting awareness about what is happening to reproductive choice in this country.”
“I am so very humbled by the outpouring of support that I have received to help me get through this time,” Cahill wrote. “I need it, and I am grateful. If they want to contribute further, it will be very well used in what I believe to be a core human rights issue.”