Planned Parenthood sues Montana over new abortion laws

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Planned Parenthood of Montana filed a lawsuit Monday to block four new laws restricting access to abortion in the state.

The laws are expected to come into force on October 1. They would ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation; restrict access to abortion pills; requiring abortion providers to ask patients if they want to see an ultrasound; and ban insurance plans that cover abortion procedures from being offered on the federal stock exchange.

The lawsuit filed in Yellowstone District Court claims the laws violate Montana’s constitution, which protects access to abortion before the fetus is viable, typically at 24 weeks gestation. He says the laws will reduce the number of places where abortion services are offered and threaten abortion providers with civil and criminal penalties.

The laws were passed earlier this year by the Republican-dominated legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, who last November became Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years. His Democratic predecessors blocked previous attempts to limit access to abortion.

Montana joins several other GOP-led states in passing additional restrictions on access to abortion this year.

The lawsuit names Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, as accused. He said in a statement that voters in Montana overwhelmingly reject Planned Parenthood’s “extreme pro-abortion positions”.

“I look forward to upholding these clearly valid statutes and protecting the lives of unborn children,” he said.

Supporters of the laws said they would protect women seeking abortions and make the procedure safer. Abortion rights advocates have challenged these arguments.

Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana, said the laws would disproportionately impact people in rural areas, low-income families and Native Americans.

Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, the Republican who sponsored the move to ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation, said the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade – establishing a national abortion right in 1973 – was wrong. She said the law would protect fetuses capable of feeling pain, but the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says fetuses are unable to feel pain until 24 weeks gestation.

Supporters of rules limiting where and how abortion pills can be administered have said the pills can cause complications requiring medical supervision, calling them “the wild west of the abortion industry.” The new restrictions prohibit access to the pills through telehealth.

But at Planned Parenthood of Montana, which operates five of the state’s seven clinics, 75 percent of abortions are performed with drugs rather than surgeries, and medical experts say they’re relatively safe.

Stahl said the various laws passed earlier this year share the goal of “banning abortion completely …”. Laws impact access to abortion both early and late in pregnancy, limiting abortion pills often used in the early stages of gestation and banning abortion in almost all cases after 20 weeks – essentially “tightening” a woman’s ability to access the procedure, Stahl said.

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The Montana lawsuit comes after the United States Supreme Court in May agreed to take up a case to determine whether states can ban abortions before a fetus can survive outside the womb, a showdown that could drastically alter nearly 50 years of procedural rulings.

The case, which involves a Mississippi law banning abortion 15 weeks after a woman’s pregnancy begins, will likely be debated in the fall, with a decision likely in the spring of 2022.

While the High Court ruling may have far-reaching effects, Montana’s Constitution grants an even stronger right to privacy than that granted by federal law, and Stahl said the ruling would not necessarily have impact on access to abortion in the state.

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