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The court blocked three laws that would have taken effect on October 1.  

BILLINGS — Today, a Montana District Court issued a ruling temporarily halting three laws that would have taken effect on October 1 and blocked access to abortion across the state of Montana. This ruling, which comes in a case the court called “of extreme constitutional importance,” protects access to abortion care until the state district court can rule on Planned Parenthood of Montana’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The laws, enacted in the 2021 legislative session, include:

  • H.B. 136, an unconstitutional ban on abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy;
  • H.B. 171, an omnibus measure creating numerous barriers to medication abortion, which include requiring at least two in-person health center visits, medically inaccurate counseling, a dangerous public reporting requirement, and a ban on the use of telehealth for abortion; and
  • H.B. 140, a mandatory ultrasound offer and documentation requirement designed to shame patients and stigmatize abortion.

Statement from Martha Stahl, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Montana:

“This is a critically important step in our fight for Montanans and their ability to continue accessing safe, legal abortion without interference from politicians, as guaranteed by the right to privacy under the Montana Constitution. We are pleased the court agreed that these abortion restrictions should not go into effect until the court can give serious consideration to the weighty constitutional issues in this case. We will continue to fight for our patients, particularly those most impacted: those living in rural areas, and Black, Indigenous, and Latino communities, who face systemic barriers to accessing care they need and deserve.”

Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“The state court’s decision to block these cruel and unnecessary laws is a victory for reproductive freedom in Montana. Despite attacks from legislators bent on controlling the personal health care decisions of their constituents, abortion continues to be safe, legal, and constitutional across the state. Montanans deserve health care that is available without barriers, shame, and stigma. The court’s decision will help ensure that remains true for more than 220,000 women of reproductive age who live in the state. At the same time, Planned Parenthood and its partners continue to fight for equitable abortion access, regardless of a person’s race, ZIP code, or income.” 

Planned Parenthood of Montana, represented by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, WilmerHale, and the Graybill Law Firm, challenged these laws — as well as H.B. 229, which would ban abortion coverage in the state health insurance exchange — in August, asserting that they violate the Montana Constitution. The rights to privacy and access to safe abortion services are clearly protected under the state constitution — so much so that even the legislature’s own lawyers warned that the challenged laws could be deemed unconstitutional.

On Wednesday evening, the State filed a motion to disqualify the judge assigned to the case, which automatically paused proceedings and prevented the district court from ruling on the preliminary injunction before the laws’ effective date. On Thursday morning, Planned Parenthood turned to the Montana Supreme Court for emergency relief.  After the trial court judge recused himself from the case, the Supreme Court returned the matter to a new district court judge, who then temporarily blocked the laws while he considers Planned Parenthood’s pending motion for a preliminary injunction.

The challenged laws would not only ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, but they would also create additional, medically unnecessary barriers to care for Montana’s roughly 220,000 women of reproductive age. For many Montanans, especially those who are Black, Latino, or Indigenous, who have low incomes, or who live in rural areas, accessing abortion is already difficult because they must secure the necessary funds, take time off work, and travel to appointments. By blocking these three laws while the case proceeds, the court has ensured that Montanans will continue to be able to access abortion without interference from politicians.

While the right to abortion remains protected in Montana for now, the state legislature has repeatedly attacked abortion rights and continues to do so. Indeed, the laws challenged by Planned Parenthood are straight out of the anti-abortion playbook that’s driven a nationwide effort to push abortion out of reach — or even outlaw it altogether. In 2021, almost 600 abortion restrictions have been proposed across the country, with nearly 100 abortion restrictions enacted as of September 1. The Montana constitution protects abortion more strongly than does the federal constitution. That federal protection may be further eroded in just a few months, when the U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, that could overturn or severely weaken Roe v. Wade.  This could leave Montanans without any federal constitutional protections for abortion access whatsoever. 

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Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable sexual and reproductive health care for all people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood organizations serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect, and without judgment, striving to create equitable access to health care. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable education and information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives. Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that supports the independently incorporated Planned Parenthood affiliates operating health centers across the U.S.

 Planned Parenthood of Montana (PPMT) is a leading statewide organization that provides the full range of reproductive health care services, including birth control and abortion, life-saving cancer screenings, STI and HIV prevention, trans health care, testing and treatment for STIs, breast health services, Pap tests, sexual health education, and mental health counseling. PPMT’s mission is to lead by providing, promoting, and protecting sexual and reproductive health care and education for all Montanans.

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP provides legal representation across a comprehensive range of practice areas that are critical to the success of its clients. The law firm’s leading Intellectual Property, Litigation/Controversy, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Securities and Financial Services, and Transactional Departments participate in some of the highest-profile legal and policy matters. With a staunch commitment to public service, WilmerHale is renowned as a leader in pro bono representation. The firm is 1,000 lawyers strong with 13 offices in the United States, Europe and Asia. For more information, please visit wilmerhale.com.