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Montanans Don’t Want New Abortion Restrictions

On the heels of an election in which Montanans rejected putting more restrictions on abortion services, that’s unfortunately exactly what the state government is poised to do. If a new rule goes into effect, hundreds of Montanans will see their reproductive freedom taken away, with harms to working families that will last for generations.


Under pressure from the governor’s office, the Department of Public Health and Human Services announced that they will soon make it virtually impossible for women to use their Medicaid insurance to cover the costs of an abortion. Instead, patients would need to come up with hundreds or even thousands of dollars out-of-pocket – far more than many working Montana families can afford. 


Cutting Medicaid coverage for abortions will cause delays in medical treatment. Patients will spend critical time asking for money from friends or family with whom they wouldn’t otherwise share their medical decisions, leading to more abortions later in pregnancy. 


The rule will also cause serious financial hardship. In a research study I conducted with colleagues in Texas that was published last year in the American Journal of Public Health, we found that many women who had to pay for their abortion out-of-pocket were forced to skip paying for child care, rent, and even groceries so they could save enough cash to pay for an essential medical service.


I’m an abortion provider in Montana, and I recently took care of a young woman with Medicaid coverage who lived in her parents’ home with her two small children. She worked two jobs but was barely making ends meet. She had gotten pregnant despite using birth control (which is common), and she opted to get a medication abortion through a telemedicine service, since that would allow her to avoid driving hundreds of miles to the nearest clinic. Over an encrypted video conferencing line, I determined that the abortion was medically necessary and ensured she met the criteria for telemedicine-based abortion care. She received the medications in the mail the next day, and she had the freedom to choose when to take them. She was able to end her pregnancy when it was still early in her first trimester, and that allowed her to get back to taking care of her family. 


Making patients wait to get abortions, as the new DPHHS rule threatens to do, will put hundreds of women at risk of financial hardship and health harms. It also would raise costs for taxpayers, and would fly in the face of Montana voters. Just a few months ago, a majority of Montanans rejected LR 131, a ballot measure written by anti-abortion extremists, despite the fact that the proposal (the “Born-Alive Infant Protection Act”) was deliberately written to confuse voters. 


Ever since the US Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade last June, every state bordering Montana has tried to ban abortion. (North Dakota and Wyoming’s abortion bans are currently held up in court, while Idaho and South Dakota have already implemented total bans.) 


Fortunately, Montana has a history of protecting its citizens from government overreach. For decades, we’ve had stronger protections for abortion than our neighboring states, a testament to the importance we place on personal liberty. We shouldn’t let a small group of anti-abortion extremists hijack our freedoms and put working families in Montana at risk.


Samuel Dickman, MD, an abortion provider and primary care physician, is the Chief Medical Officer of Planned Parenthood of Montana