This story is adapted from the MT Lowdown, a weekly newsletter digest containing original reporting and analysis published every Friday.
In recent weeks, Montana’s primary abortion access fund, which helps people cover the cost of abortion and related expenses such as travel, lodging and childcare, announced a rebranding. What was once known as the Susan Wicklund Fund is now the Montana Abortion Access Program, or MAAP.
On its website, MAAP says its new name is meant “to be more clear about what we do and to make it easier for people to find us.” Abortion remains legal in Montana regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling last year, and Montana-based providers have been accepting patients from other states where the practice has been banned or restricted.
The name change, however, is also connected to a disagreement between Montana abortion access trailblazer Dr. Susan Wicklund, the organization’s now-former namesake, and its board.
According to a July email sent to “friends and supporters” and later shared with Montana Free Press, Wicklund said the schism was about what language the group should use when referring to people who might seek abortion: either foregrounding “women,” as Wicklund preferred, or using gender-neutral language to be inclusive of transgender, Two-Spirit, nonbinary, intersex and other people who can and do become pregnant.
In an August email about the name change, MAAP said the organization’s board had been moving toward the latter option in recent months, pointing to research finding that 1.1% of respondents who had abortions in the U.S. did not identify as women and 16% of patients did not identify as heterosexual.
In Wicklund’s telling, she asked the board to maintain joint references to “women” and “pregnant people,” a compromise she said the board refused. Wicklund said she then decided she “could no longer have my name associated with an organization that does not recognize or honor the long history of women fighting for reproductive rights, and does not acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of people seeking abortion care do indeed identify as women.”
MAAP said its board unanimously agreed with Wicklund’s request to remove her name from the group.
In its August email, MAAP reaffirmed its committment to “gender inclusive” language and said it is “excited to have a name that makes finding us and understanding what we do easier and fully aligns with our vision.”
“Transgender men, two-spirit people, non-binary people, gender non-conforming folks, and cisgender women all need abortion care. By using gender-inclusive language, we are not erasing the individual struggles each of these groups have faced. Instead, we acknowledge that these struggles for bodily autonomy and agency over our specific healthcare needs are inexorably linked,” MAAP wrote.
Discussion of the name change prompted a wide range of reactions on social media. Some commenters said Wicklund’s committment to elevating “women” above other identities and distancing herself from MAAP over the disagreement, amounted to transphobia. Others said they appreciated reading Wicklund’s email and sang her praises.
Many corners of the peanut gallery, however, seemed to arrive at similar conclusions: a hope that MAAP’s new name, regardless of how it came about, will help the organization reach anyone who might need help accessing abortion in Montana.
“Very obvious what you do in the name change which should help,” one commenter said in response to MAAP’s announcement on Instagram. “Congrats!”
“Congrats!!!” said All Families Healthcare, an abortion clinic in Whitefish. “And as always thanks for all that you do!!”
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