A divided Montana Supreme Court has upheld a ruling that allows advanced practice registered nurses to provide abortions while they challenge a state law that says only physicians and physician assistants can perform the procedure.
Last spring, a state judge temporarily blocked the state law as it applied to Whitefish nurse practitioner Helen Weems and an unidentified nurse midwife. Since then, Weems has been providing abortions at her clinic.
ACLU of Montana Executive Director Caitlin Borgmann says that prior to the judge’s action, the Flathead Valley hadn’t had an abortion provider since 2014. Borgmann says that some Montanans would need to travel nearly 200 miles for an abortion if advanced practice nurses couldn’t offer the procedure.
“So many Montanans live in rural places where it’s a long drive for them to get anywhere where there is an abortion provider. So if there are more qualified healthcare professionals that can provide them safely, it just means more Montanans have access to that service," she says.
The ACLU of Montana and the Center for Reproductive Rights have been representing Helen Weems.
In its 4-3 decision Friday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld the temporary protection for Weems, saying medical providers can challenge laws related to patients' constitutional privacy rights to obtain a legal medical procedure from a competent health care provider.
Studies have indicated that advanced practice nurses provide abortions with the same level of safety as physicians and physician assistants.
The ACLU of Montana and Center for Reproductive Rights will now ask a district judge to permanently OK advanced practice nurses’ ability to perform abortions. A trial date hasn’t been set.