020618 Editorial Cartoon

Montanans -- and all Americans -- should be concerned anytime a lawmaker tries to tell your doctor what to do.

Most politicians aren't doctors, so they should leave medical care up to the experts.

That's why we continue to support the right for women to make their own choice about their bodies and birth control. Freedom of choice is foundational to our American experience.

However, we are also concerned that by focusing on one procedure, abortion, it distracts from other more important topics facing women, healthcare and birth control. 

We find the practice disconcerting, and believe it should be a means of last resort in birth control. In truth, statistics show that the number of abortions have decreased steadily and it's not the cheapest option for birth control. 

While we applaud the Montana American Civil Liberties Union for tackling the legal issue of whether the state can limit the medical providers who provide abortion, we also worry that the constant focus on abortion detracts from other more pressing aspects in Montana. 

The ACLU may indeed argue that its current legal challenge has less to do with abortions and more to do with a state interfering with medical care from a provider. We understand that argument, and we are concerned anytime Helena tries to get between a doctor and a patient.

However, because of the politically charged issue of abortion, it plays an oversized role in politics. It's a key wedge issue, when the reality is that it affects a small portion of Montana. In 2014, the latest statistics available, there were less than 1,700 abortions performed. Experts said the number of Montana residents who received abortions were probably less because some women may have traveled to the state to have the procedure performed here.

Still, the statistics are small, but the issue looms large in politics as conservatives continue to rally around it, though any number of issues affect more Montanans.

This distraction comes at the expense of a larger topic -- women's health and birth control. Access to healthcare in Montana, especially in rural areas, is crucial. And, it's not just limited to birth control -- it's all healthcare issues. Some counties have faced the possibility of not having a practicing doctor even living within their borders.

As Congress has begun to dismantle budgets and the Affordable Care Act, access to health clinics, especially those that provide healthcare for women and single mothers, remains in jeopardy. Moreover, as some employers claim a religious exemption from having to offer birth control as part of their prescription drug benefit, the issue of access and affordability become more pressing than abortion.

Granted, both of those issues are linked. 

No one touts abortion as the best option for birth control. However, when women don't have access to health care or affordable birth control, abortion becomes an inevitable alternative to an unwanted pregnancy. 

We would think if more conservative residents loathed abortion so much, they would be doing everything in their power to ensure that women had access to healthcare and affordable birth control.

As we continue to debate the federal budget, we cannot be so distracted by the fight over abortion that we lose sight of the tens of thousands of Montana women who get their healthcare through community clinics, or rely on affordable and accessible means of birth control.

We support the work the ACLU is doing because it's essential to make sure that Roe v. Wade is not overturned by a series of increasingly limiting legislative measures. However, we hope that as we fight this one, single issue, that we're not losing sight of a much larger issue in which we make women desperate because they don't have healthcare or affordable birth control.

Being pro-life has to also mean we care about the lives and health of the mothers, too.

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