John Riley

HELENA (KPAX) — A Montana District Court has temporarily blocked a new state ban on a specific abortion procedure commonly used after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Thursday morning, Judge Mike Menahan granted Planned Parenthood of Montana’s temporary restraining order on the enforcement of House Bill 721 until further ruled by the court. Menahan notes in his ruling the law may be in violation of the Montana Constitution.

HB 721 titled “The Dismemberment Abortion Prohibition Act” was brought forward by Speaker of the House Matt Regier, R-Kallispell.

The law specifically prohibits the use of what the medical community formally calls “dilation and evacuation” abortions. The procedure is a form of surgical abortion in which a fetus is removed using forceps or similar tools. It is a typical form of abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy – after 12 weeks.

The law also establishes a felony charge for anyone who performs that type of abortion and requires suspending a physician or physician assistant’s medical license for at least a year.

“Every day Montanans are waking up to new restrictions on their bodily autonomy, confused about what care they can and cannot access in their own communities. As the Legislature and Governor continue to enact unconstitutional laws, Planned Parenthood of Montana remains committed to challenging them in court. We’re glad the district court has once again recognized the grave harm these anti-abortion laws will have on people seeking basic health care and stepped in to grant this much-needed relief. Politics has no place in the exam room and we will not stand by as lawmakers race to take away access to abortion and strip us of our personal freedom.”

During the 2023 legislative session, Republican lawmakers proposed and passed a number of bills aimed at restricting abortion in Montana.

Access to abortion in Montana has been protected by the Armstrong decision. In 1999, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Armstrong v. State that the state constitution’s guaranteed right to privacy allowed women to have an abortion before fetal viability.

The Montana Department of Justice objected to Planned Parenthood's request for a temporary restraining order saying that the law does not stop abortion in the state, but rather targets only a specific type of abortion.

Montana DOJ spokesperson Emily Flower told MTN in a statement:

“House Bill 721 does not prevent a single woman from having an abortion. Instead, it prohibits a barbaric abortion procedure – one that entails ripping an unborn baby limb-from-limb from the mother’s womb, causes pain to the unborn child, and has substantial health risks for the mother. The court should not grant a temporary restraining order.”

HB 721 passed on a party-line vote in the House and a primarily party-line vote in the Senate with three Republicans joining Democrats in opposition. Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed the bill into law on May 16.