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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Court Will Hear Challenge To Montana's Abortion Provider Restrictions


A nurse in the Flathead Valley will ask a Montana district court Thursday to suspend a state law that limits who can and cannot perform abortions. She’s being represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Only physicians and physicians assistants can legally perform abortions in Montana. It's a felony for others to perform the procedure.

Alex Rate, the legal director for the ACLU of Montana, will argue that the restriction should be lifted for advanced practice registered nurses. Rate says the current law is unconstitutional.

"We can all agree that we live in a relatively rural state, our client Helen Weems is working in a practice, All Families Healthcare up in the Flathead. And she should be able to safely perform these procedures and services to those folks who would otherwise need to travel to Spokane or Missoula to get abortion care."

The ACLU plans on hinging much of its case on a Montana Supreme Court ruling from the late 1990s, that struck down a previous state law that allowed only physicians to perform abortions.

Rate says the ruling stated that Montanans should be able to access abortions from a qualified health care provider of their choice.

Attorneys for the State of Montana are expected to question the ACLU’s constitutionality claims.

The state is casting doubt on the merits of the ACLU’s case and arguing that not enough evidence has been presented to show that Helen Weems, or her potential clients, are being harmed by the current law, so there is no need to put a stop on the law.

The ACLU plans to ask the Lewis and Clark County District Court to put the current law on hold so that all advanced practice registered nurses can perform abortions while the full case is argued.

Gregg Trude, the state director of Right To Life Montana, says his organization plans to file a motion to intervene in the lawsuit and take part of its proceedings. He says he’s concerned that changing who can perform abortions, could make them less safe.

"They claim to be concerned about the health of the women. But they're really not concerned about the health of women, they just want to expand abortion."

In 2013, research published in the International Journal of Women's Health concluded that, when compared with physicians, there were no statistical differences in complications for early trimester abortions performed by midlevel providers, such as nurse practitioners. The study added that more research was required to establish more precise effects.

Oral arguments will begin at 1:30 p.m., Thursday March, 9 at the Lewis and Clark County District  courthouse.

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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