Fifty years. Half a century.
That seems like a long time. But it’s not.
Because in an instant, we could lose some of the most fundamental rights we have as Americans and Montanans – the freedom to make very personal healthcare decisions.
When I ran for Montana governor in 2020, I visited a Planned Parenthood office and heard a chilling story. A patient had recently traveled in the dead of winter from rural South Dakota (in a state with just one abortion clinic) to receive her constitutionally protected healthcare.
She drove 600 miles to the closest provider, across two state lines, in white-out conditions and on icy roads.
To pay, she brought cash in the form of coins – 2,400 quarters, to be exact – to pay for her abortion. She plopped the $600 dollars in quarters – weighing 30 pounds – on the counter. The thump from the coins’ weight startled the staff working behind layers of bulletproof glass, which was placed there to protect them from decades of domestic terrorist threats.
In America today, 89 percent of U.S. counties have no clinics providing abortions. Montana’s no different. But we’re better off than our neighbors in ruby red Idaho, the Dakotas and Wyoming. Montana has been a bright spot in the West, where five abortion clinics dot our 145,00-square-mile state.
That’s real America.
As a proud Montanan, I’ve lived just two years longer than the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the U.S. Constitution protects a person’s freedom to choose to have an abortion without government intervention.
And 50 years after the nation’s highest court’s decision noted that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides a “right to privacy” , delegates to Montana’s constitutional convention adopted one of the most sweeping rights to privacy in the country, declaring: “The right of individual privacy is essential to the well-being of a free society and shall not be infringed without the showing of a compelling state interest.” (My parents, Pat and Carol Williams, were proud attendees at this historic convention.)
For decades, that simple, singular provision has protected a woman’s right and freedom to choose and has nixed attempts by so-called limited-government politicians from sticking their noses into the healthcare decisions of freedom-loving Montanans.
Today, however, we’re on the verge of losing our freedoms as the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to overturn Roe’s provisions, and some Republicans here are clamoring to limit liberties enshrined in our state constitution. Gov. Greg Gianforte says he’ll call a special legislative session should the high court strike down Roe so he can increase state government intervention in our lives.
The freedoms and protections we’ve fought for and won over the last 50 years could fall in just a few months.
Elections have consequences, and those of us who pursue freedom and believe in privacy and government staying out of our personal decisions are feeling the consequences right now.
In the coming election, it’s important to ask candidates where they stand on the issue of abortion. Ask about the right to privacy and whether politicians should be allowed to tell people what they can do with their bodies.
Since 1973, we’ve honored freedom and privacy over the intrusion of government and politicians. Now we stand on the edge of a dramatic rollback of fundamental rights. In the next several months we could see our freedoms slide down an avalanche chute into an abyss of subordination.
Let’s stand for freedom and privacy and reject the politics of government control that limits our freedom to choose when and how to have a family.
Because it’s our bodies, not theirs. And we should decide, not them.