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Lawsuit filed to strike down four new MT laws restricting abortion

(Annisa Keith illustration)

HELENA (KPAX) — Planned Parenthood of Montana filed suit Monday to overturn four new laws restricting abortion and abortion insurance coverage in Montana, calling them an unconstitutional violation of privacy and other individual rights.

“These laws are nothing more than poorly disguised attempts to chip away at Montanans’ access to safe and constitutional abortion,” the suit said. “Their combined effect is particularly cruel and prohibitive – pushing women seeking abortion later into pregnancy and also cutting off access to abortion at an earlier gestational age.”

The long-expected lawsuit also asked state District Judge Jessica Fehr of Billings to block three of the four laws from taking effect Oct. 1, while their constitutionality is decided.

The suit takes aim at four bills passed by Republican majorities at the 2021 Legislature and signed into law this April by Gov. Greg Gianforte, also a Republican. Not a single Democratic lawmaker voted for any of the bills.

The suit named the state and Attorney General Austin Knudsen as defendants. In a statement, Knudsen said Montana voters in 2020 “overwhelmingly rejected Planned Parenthood’s, Raph Graybill’s and the Democrats’ extreme pro-abortion positions” when they elected Republicans to statewide offices and majorities at the Legislature, and that he looks forward to defending “these clearly valid statutes” in court.

Graybill, who is one of Planned Parenthood’s attorneys in the lawsuit filed Monday, was the Democrat that Knudsen, a Republican, defeated in the 2020 election for attorney general.

The challenged bills/laws are:

· House Bill 136, which banned any abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

· HB171, which created new restrictions and requirements for the disbursement of abortion-inducing pills, or “medication abortion.”

The new law says women seeking a medication abortion must make at least two trips to see a health-care provider in person, rather than through tele-health, and imposes numerous new reporting requirements for health-care providers.

· HB140, which requires abortion providers to ask patients if they want to view an ultrasound of the fetus and listen to its heartbeat.

· HB229, which prohibits subsidized health-insurance plans on the Affordable Care Act marketplace from covering abortion. The suit did not ask the court to stop this law from taking effect.

Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence and the sponsor of HB171, told MTN News that medication abortions have been on the increase, and that her bill protects women from possible complications or abuses, when they acquire the drugs without proper medical attention.

For example, the bill requires patients to have an in-person follow-up visit after taking the abortion-inducing pill, she said.

“I think that’s important because these pills don’t always work as they’re intended to,” Greef said.

But Martha Stahl, the president of Planned Parenthood Montana, said proponents of abortion restrictions across the country have falsely portrayed these laws as enhancing patient safety.

“No one cares more about the safety of their patients than health-care providers … and abortion providers are no different,” Stahl said. “I think it’s really important to be very, very clear that these laws are an attempt to limit access and create barriers to abortion and ultimately to outlaw abortion here in Montana.”

The lawsuit asked Fehr to strike down the laws because they violate numerous state constitutional rights, including women’s right to privacy in deciding medical procedures, the right to seek “safety, health and happiness,” and health-care providers’ rights to free speech, by compelling them to give certain advice or dispense false information.