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ACLU Sues Over Montana Abortion Provider Limits


The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging a Montana state law that limits who can perform abortions. The lawsuit filed in state court Tuesday says current law violates patients’ equal protection rights to choose an abortion health care provider.

Montana law allows only physicians and physicians assistants to perform abortions. 

Catlin Borgmann, executive director for the ACLU of Montana is pointing to a state supreme court decision from the late 1990s as grounds to overturn the law.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the state’s abortion law  that allowed only physicians to perform abortions violated the constitutional right of a patient to get a lawful medical procedure from the health care provider of her choice. 

“It specifically says that people should be able to access abortions from a qualified health care provider of their choice, and that's not limited to physician assistants,” Borgmann says.

The ACLU is joined by the national Center for Reproductive Rights in the lawsuit.

The plaintiff is an advanced practice registered nurse who wants to perform abortions at a clinic she helping to reopen in Northwest Montana. The clinic was vandalized and destroyed in 2014, and the area has been without an abortion provider since then.

In 2015 a Whitefish man was given a 20 year sentence, with 15 years deferred, for destroying the clinic. He also has to repay the victim $650,000. 

Susan Cahill, who’s clinic was destroyed, was the plaintiff in the original lawsuit in the '90s that resulted in physicians assistants being allowed to perform abortions. The lead plaintiff in the case filed today is new owner of Cahill’s clinic, and Cahill’s business partner.

CORRECTION: In the original broadcast of this story it was incorrectly reported that the man who vandalized and destroyed Cahill’s clinic was ordered to repay the victim $60,000. The correct number is $650,000. Also, it was originally incorrectly reported that the lead plaintiff in the ACLU case is Cahill’s employee. The story has been corrected to say that the plaintiff is the new owner of Cahill’s clinic, and Cahill’s business partner. MTPR regrets the errors. 

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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