Lawsuit will challenge four anti-abortion bills passed this state legislative session
BILLINGS, MT — Today, Planned Parenthood of Montana — represented by the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, WilmerHale, and the Graybill Law Firm — filed suit in Montana state court challenging four new laws attacking safe, legal abortion enacted during the 2021 legislation session that violate the Montana Constitution. The suit asks the court to intervene before the new restrictions take effect on October 1.
Among the laws challenged, H.B. 136 would unconstitutionally ban abortion beginning at 20 weeks. The law would target medical professionals who provide this care, threatening them with both felony prosecution and civil lawsuits. The lawsuit also challenges H.B. 171, which targets medication abortion, a safe and effective method of ending an early pregnancy. H.B. 171 would impose a medically unnecessary 24-hour delay on patients seeking medication abortion; force them to travel at least twice to a health center; and require that providers report to the state various information about patients who obtain medication abortions, which would then be made available to the public. H.B. 171 would also forbid Montanans from accessing medication abortion through the mail and through telehealth, thereby delaying access to health care and creating barriers to care, especially for those in rural areas. The law also requires that patients seeking medication abortion must first sign a consent form that would include medically inaccurate information meant to further stigmatize abortion and intimidate patients. By creating more barriers to medication abortion and also banning abortion at and after 20 weeks, Gov. Greg Gianforte and anti-abortion lawmakers in the legislature are cruelly and unjustifiably trying to make it more difficult for patients across Montana to access safe and legal health care earlier and later in pregnancy.
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
For years, dangerous laws in Montana that would restrict access to abortion have been successfully blocked. Now, Gov. Gianforte has put his personal beliefs over the needs of his constituents and has signed into law harmful bills that make abortion inaccessible. These laws are designed to create more barriers for Montanans seeking access to essential health care. Instead of advocating for expanded access to health care services, Montana legislators have focused their attention on attacking abortion. That’s why we are going to court to protect our patients’ access to abortion in Montana and across the country.
Statement from Martha Stahl, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Montana:
The laws we’re challenging today would have the greatest impact on people in rural areas, Native women, people with low incomes, and those facing barriers to travel. It is absolutely dishonest to claim, as some legislators have, that these laws make patients any more safe than they already are under the care of skilled reproductive health providers. While the laws create various restrictions, they all share the same ultimate goal: outlawing safe, legal, constitutionally-protected abortion entirely, and creating unnecessary barriers to health care. Rest assured our doors remain open and we will never stop fighting to protect access to health care and ensure its affordability because access doesn’t mean anything if folks can’t afford it.
While Montana was still in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, state legislators wasted no time passing these harmful and unconstitutional bills that make reproductive health care much harder to access. Instead of focusing on increasing health care access to those who need it most, they worked to violate patients’ privacy, criminalize providers, disrespect the sanctity of the provider-patient relationship, and shame patients for seeking abortion.
Two other laws were challenged as part of this suit. One, H.B. 140, forces providers to ask abortion patients if they would like to view or hear an ultrasound and then make patients sign a form indicating whether they decided to view or hear the ultrasound, which stigmatizes abortion and does not provide any medical benefit. Another, H.B. 229, would prohibit any insurance plan that provides coverage for abortion from being offered on the Affordable Care Act exchange, meaning that people who rely on the exchange for insurance coverage would have no options to get coverage for abortion. The Montana Constitution clearly protects the right to privacy and to access safe abortion services. Even the legislature's own lawyers warned legislators that the laws they sought to pass violate the Montana Constitution.
The laws challenged today are part of a long-standing, concerted nationwide effort to ban abortion entirely or push care so far out of reach that it is impossible to access. They were passed during the worst year ever for state-level abortion attacks. We’ve already seen nearly 600 anti-abortion bills proposed across the country this year, 90 of which have already been enacted — more than in any year since the Roe v. Wade was decided. We’re also months away from the Supreme Court hearing its first abortion case since Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the court last fall. The future of abortion access is uncertain and some states are already preparing for what a world without Roe v. Wade could look like.
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.