State Court Temporarily Blocks Montana Law Prohibiting Advance Practice Registered Nurses From Providing Abortion Services

(PRESS RELEASE) Today, the State District Court in Lewis and Clark County temporarily blocked a law prohibiting advance practice registered nurses (APRNs) from providing abortion services. The law prevented APRNs from providing abortion care, on threat of criminal prosecution, despite the demonstrated safety of abortion and the proven ability of APRNs to provide early abortion care with the same safety and efficacy as physicians and physician assistants. This preliminary injunction allows plaintiffs Helen Weems and Jane Doe to provide abortion care to Montanans seeking this constitutionally-protected health care. The law will remain blocked until the litigation is resolved. 

This decision comes weeks after the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Montana challenged the law that restricts access to abortion care in the state and presented oral argument on behalf of the plaintiffs.

“Helen Weems and Jane Doe are qualified and highly competent health care providers,” said Hillary Schneller, Center for Reproductive Rights Staff Attorney. “With this injunction in place, they can now pursue training and provide safe abortion care without the threat of prosecution. The court’s decision also concludes that the state has no compelling reasons for allowing only physicians and physician assistants to provide abortion services.”

Said Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana:

“The court recognized that Montana law places unnecessary, unfounded, and arbitrary barriers to Montanans’ access to abortion care. Currently, only 4 of Montana’s 56 counties have an abortion provider. Allowing APRNs to perform these services as the case is pending will ensure Montanans have the quality healthcare they need.”

In 1997, the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged a Montana law restricting the provision of abortion to physicians only.  The law targeted Susan Cahill, then the only physician assistant providing abortion services in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law because it violated Montana’s strong constitutional protection for privacy and procreative autonomy, including an individual’s right to obtain an abortion from a health care provider of their choice.

Ms. Weems joined Ms. Cahill to re-open All Families Healthcare, a clinic Cahill ran until it was vandalized and destroyed in 2014. All Families has restored abortion services to Flathead and the surrounding counties, which had been without an abortion provider since then.

Medical and public health authorities including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association and the World Health Organization have all concluded that laws prohibiting APRNs from providing early abortion services are medically unfounded. 

Hillary Schneller and Hailey Flynn from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Alex Rate from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana filed the challenge in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County, on behalf of Helen Weems MSN, APRN-FNP and Jane Doe, MSN, CNM-WHNP.