Dr. Susan Wicklund, who operated Bozeman's only abortion clinic in the 1990s, announced this week she plans to reopen her clinic here by June.

"I'm very excited - I think it's very important," Wicklund said. "Women should not have to travel over mountain passes and two-lane roads to obtain needed medical care.

"It breaks my heart," she said, that women from this area now must travel to Billings, Missoula, Helena or Kalispell to end unwanted pregnancies.

Wicklund, 54, said in a phone interview from the Midwest that she has been living in Bozeman the past four years, and for two years she has been working at other clinics around the state.

For a while, she said, she was traveling 300 miles to Kalispell, only to discover that half her patients were from the Bozeman area and had traveled the same distance.

Wicklund said she had been thinking about reopening the Mountain Country Women's Clinic, which she operated from 1993 to 1998. She closed the clinic 10 years ago to return to the Midwest to care for her dying mother.

Wicklund said she made up her mind to reopen the Bozeman clinic after receiving strong support from people in the community after the publication of her new book, "This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor," written with Bozeman author Alan Kesselheim.

Supporters offered to staff the clinic and lease space for the clinic, which she said would provide abortions only in the first trimester, up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. She declined to disclose the clinic's location before it opens, citing security reasons.

In the 1990s, Wicklund was the target of pro-life protests in Bozeman and the Midwest, and was profiled on "60 Minutes." She said she received death threats, wore a bullet-proof vest and carried a handgun for protection.

Asked if she is afraid the protests will start up again, Wicklund said, "I've lived through it in the past. If it happens again, I'll live through it again."

Gregg Trude of Helena, executive director of Right to Life of Montana, said Tuesday that his organization does not organize protests.

"We try to educate people about what abortion truly does" and to pass legislation, Trude said. "Am I disappointed she's opening one up? Yes. Girls in Bozeman had to travel, and that gave them a chance to think about a sometimes emotional decision."

"It's a human life," Trude said. "At 21 days, the heart is beating. At six weeks, an unborn baby has all her fingers and toes."

Wicklund responded by saying, "We know medically and physiologically, without a doubt, that an embryo in the first trimester cannot feel pain, cannot think, does not have any sense of being. It cannot survive on its own. For me, the patient is the woman, who should never be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term. It's about human rights, about good health for the woman."

In the 1990s, pro-life advocates carried picket signs with graphic photographs of aborted fetuses in weekly protests outside the Medical Arts Building at 300 N. Willson Ave. The building housed Wicklund's clinic and the separate Bridger Clinic, which does not perform abortions but refers patients, depending on their wishes, to prenatal care, adoption or abortion services.

In 1997, protestor John Yankowski was arrested for setting fire to the building's roof. He was convicted by a federal jury of arson and extortion and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The extortion charge was overturned on appeal. Yankowski, whose case was transferred to New York, served four years in federal prison and was released in 2001, according to federal Web sites.

Wicklund said in addition to offering surgical abortion services, she will offer women the option of the RU486 abortion pill.

Local women now only have access to the "morning-after" pill, which can prevent pregnancy from occurring after unprotected sex. The RU486 pill can induce an abortion after pregnancy has occurred, before the sixth week of pregnancy, Wicklund said. The pill must be given in a physician's office, and it has not been provided here largely because in cases when the pill fails, surgical abortion must be available as a backup.

According to the state Health Department vital statistics report for 2006, Montana's abortion rate has fallen dramatically from peaks in 1983 and 1990. The number declined from 295 induced abortions per 1,000 live births to 170 per 1,000 births in 2006.

In 2006, a total of 2,119 abortions were performed in Montana, of which 1,930 were for Montana residents. Residents of Gallatin County had 220 abortions, the third highest number after residents of Missoula County (379) and Yellowstone County (341). Most abortions were performed in Missoula and Billings, with more than 800 each, while smaller numbers were reported in Helena, Kalispell and Great Falls.