Tester on Missoula tour: Planned Parenthood provides critical access to care

by Corey Walsh

U.S. Sen. Jon Tester toured the Planned Parenthood clinic in downtown Missoula on Friday morning, one week after President Barack Obama vetoed the latest congressional attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act and strip the women’s health organization of its federal funding.

Tester visited the facility, met with employees and inquired about the staffing levels, electronic records system and other concerns.

The Big Sandy resident said he supports the access to quality health care the clinics provide, especially in a rural state like Montana.

“It’s really, critically important that these Planned Parenthood clinics are allowed to provide the kind of health care that women have learned to expect,” Tester said. He added that preventive care can fix problems before they become problems.

He said the ongoing efforts to defund both Obamacare and Planned Parenthood are wrong-headed.

“It’s ‘defund and replace with the old system,’ and that doesn’t work. If you take money out of Planned Parenthood, that doesn’t help with access issues. That hurts with access issues,” he said.


The Missoula clinic, which is the busiest Planned Parenthood in the state, sees roughly 50 patients a day, said Dawn Dockstader, manager for the Missoula and Helena facilities.

The bulk of its services are related to birth control, but extend to abortion services, pregnancy tests, annual exams, Pap tests, breast exams, referrals for mammograms and vasectomies, sexually transmitted disease infection checks, screenings and follow-up services, and education and peer counseling in schools.

Tester said efforts to support women’s access to care require a constant push.

“This morning, I was asked by a reporter about taxpayer dollars going to abortion. They don’t. The Hyde Amendment back in the ’70s stopped that, and we still do that. So, no tax dollars go toward that. But what those tax dollars do go toward is access for women to get prevention and get help when they have medical problems. And I think that’s really important. And men use it, too, as far as that goes,” he said.

Asked about his concerns, Dr. Fred Henke told Tester that “funding for contraception, for abortion services is an ongoing challenge.”

Turnover also is an issue.

“We get a lot of people who tend to work with us and train, and they don’t stay very long,” he said.

Clinic hours are one aspect, as is the supply of graduates from the University of Montana. While they increase the pool of applicants, they often leave the state.

Tester also spoke with Twayna Cazier, the clinic’s health care navigator, about signing people up for health insurance. They range from patients who have already stepped into the clinic, to outreach efforts where she sees people for six hours straight, including events outside Missoula.

“We’re signing people up who have never had health care. We’ve had people almost cry,” Cazier said.

In many cases, it requires extensive education for people who need to learn the nuts and bolts of deductibles, co-pays and more.

“I’m glad you’re doing it. It’s great,” Tester said.

The other members of Montana’s delegation, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, both Republicans, voted in favor of the overhaul of the ACA.

In an emailed statement, Daines spokesperson Alee Lockman said the senator is “disappointed that President Obama rejected the will of the American people by vetoing legislation that would have repealed Obamacare and redirected funding away from scandal-plagued Planned Parenthood to more accessible community health centers.”

On Thursday, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against an anti-abortion group that filmed its employees discussing use of fetal tissue in medical research. The group alleged that Planned Parenthood was selling the tissue, which Planned Parenthood denies.

Zinke’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment by deadline.


Dockstader said the clinic staff reviewed its safety and security procedures after a recent attack in Colorado.

Robert Dear, 57, is accused of killing three people and wounding nine during a standoff at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on Nov. 27.

Earlier this week, he told a TV news station that he believed the federal government was after him.

“And I picked Planned Parenthood because it’s murdering little babies,” he said.

“When that happened, we all were on it and we had an affiliate-wide conference call about security,” Dockstader said. “We reviewed security measures, what we would do in that unfortunate case, where staff would go, how we would take care of patients.”

Among other security measures, the clinic has secured entry on both doors.

Attacks on clinics have occurred in western Montana in the past.

Blue Mountain Clinic Family Practice, now located off West Broadway, was firebombed by anti-abortion activists in 1993. While no one was hurt, the clinic was destroyed.

More recently, in spring 2014 a man broke into and vandalized All Families Healthcare, the sole abortion provider in the Flathead Valley.

Susan Cahill, the physician, had worked at a clinic that was firebombed in 1994. The damage in the 2014 vandalism was extensive enough that she hasn’t reopened.

Zachary Klundt, the man convicted for the act, is related to a member of a group that held long-running protests of Cahill’s clinic.