(PRESS RELEASE) In a win for Montanans, the state’s Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision on Friday April 26, blocking a law designed to restrict abortion access in the state. The law at issue prevents advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from providing abortion care on threat of criminal prosecution. As a result of the court’s ruling, the law remains blocked for plaintiff Helen Weems, a certified nurse practitioner, and allows her to continue providing abortion care to her Montana patients. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana filed the lawsuit last year.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures, with a major complication rate of less than half of one percent in the first trimester. APRNs have been proven to provide early abortion care with the same safety and efficacy as physicians and physician assistants. Major medical organizations, 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.
“This ruling reaffirms what the Montana Supreme Court recognized twenty years ago—that the state constitution protects the right of pregnant people to access abortion care from a qualified health care provider of their choice. The state needs a compelling reason to restrict that right, which it cannot show in this case,” said Hillary Schneller, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There is simply no reason to prohibit qualified clinicians like our clients from providing abortion care. This law only further restricts abortion access in a state where it is already limited.”
"The Montana Supreme Court once again affirmed the bedrock principle that any statute limiting an individual's right to obtain a lawful medical procedure from a qualified health care practitioner is unconstitutional," said Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana. "Our clients are capable and competent health care providers—there is no reason to prohibit them from providing abortion care. We look forward to presenting further evidence to the trial court, and permanently blocking the law."
Last spring, a state district court blocked the law, enabling Ms. Weems to train and provide abortion care to her patients, and to expand abortion access in Montana, a largely rural state with only a handful of clinics separated by great distances. On Friday, the Montana Supreme Court agreed with that lower court ruling.
In 1997, the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged a similar 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.
Hillary Schneller and Hailey Flynn from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Alex Rate and Elizabeth Ehret from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana filed this case 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.
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