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Montana Supreme Court solidifies protections for abortion access

The Montana Supreme Court has solidified protections for abortion access and will allow nurses with advanced degrees to continue performing abortions in the state.

The state’s high court ruled in favor of an advanced practice nurse practitioner in Whitefish and an unnamed clinician who challenged a 2005 law restricting which providers can offer abortion services.

In an unanimous decision, all seven supreme court justices agreed that the law unconstitutionally interferes with Montanan’s right to privacy to seek medical care from the provider of their choosing.

Alex Rate with the ACLU of Montana represented the plaintiffs.

“The court is expanding access to reproductive health care, which is particularly important in a time when we are seeing our neighboring states restricting abortion care across the board,” Rate said.

The law was challenged in 2018 and then was blocked while the lawsuit played out in court.

The ruling reaffirms the state supreme court’s 1999 Armstrong decision, which first found that the state’s right to privacy protects the right to terminate a pregnancy. Rate said the ruling bodes poorly for other restrictions on access to abortion.

Several anti-abortion laws that passed in 2021 are currently tied up in court. Republican lawmakers passed more anti-abortion bills during the 2023 session – two of which have already been challenged in court.

The Montana attorney general’s office has argued the Legislature has a right to regulate medical procedures to ensure patients’ safety. The state’s high court rejected the argument that advanced practice registered nurses are not qualified to perform abortions.

In a statement, spokesperson for the attorney general, Emilee Cantrell, said the ruling shows that “the state Supreme Court has become disgracefully radicalized and out of touch with Montanans.”

Shaylee covers state government and politics for Montana Public Radio. Please share tips, questions and concerns at 406-539-1677 or  
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