Court Battles

Montana law that limited abortion providers struck down by court

Pro-choice activists demonstrate outside the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., Monday, November 11, 2021 as the court hears oral arguments for Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson and United States v. Texas regarding the Texas abortion laws.
Greg Nash

A Montana law that limited abortion providers was ruled unconstitutional by a district judge, blocking a law that would have stopped advanced practice registered nurses from being able to perform early abortion services.

“The State has failed to demonstrate a compelling interest in limiting abortion providers to licensed physicians and physician assistants,” Judge Mike Menahan wrote in his ruling. “State has not clearly and convincingly demonstrated a medically acknowledged, bona fide health risk which justifies interfering with a patient’s fundamental right to choose her own health care provider.”

The case was brought against the state of Montana by two plaintiffs in 2018 by Helen Weems, a nurse practitioner and clinic owner, and an anonymous plaintiff referred to as “Jane Doe.” Both of the plaintiffs were represented by Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). 

In 2018, Menahan granted a request by the ACLU to block the state from prosecuting Weems, meaning that she was allowed to provide early care abortion access if they had the appropriate experience in training amid the lawsuit, The Associated Press reported.

In a 4-3 decision, Menahan’s 2018 ruling was upheld by the Montana Supreme Court.

Emilee Cantrell, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said in a statement that the state would be appealing the decision.

“Once again abortionists sued to lower the standard of care for Montana women in order to further their financial interests in performing as many abortions as possible. We will appeal the decision,” Cantrell said.

Meanwhile, the decision was lauded by the ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights.

“Today’s ruling comes at a perilous time for abortion rights, and it is a relief to pave the way for abortion access to be expanded in Montana, rather than further restricted,” Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

“There is simply no reason to prohibit pregnant people from accessing abortion care from qualified clinicians like our clients. We applaud the court’s decision while preparing to continue to defend our clients against this unconstitutional and harmful restriction.”  

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