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Order blocking abortion-restriction laws goes to MT Supreme Court

AG Knudsen appeals case to high court
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Posted at 2:38 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 16:38:06-04

HELENA — The ruling that blocked three new laws restricting abortion in Montana is now before the state Supreme Court, as state Attorney General Austin Knudsen appealed the order.

Knudsen filed the appeal Tuesday to overturn the Oct. 7 order from state District Judge Michael Moses of Billings, who not only blocked the laws from taking effect but also strongly indicated that he would ultimately find them unconstitutional.

Emilee Cantrell, a spokeswoman for Knudsen, said the attorney general is appealing the ruling “to protect women and their unborn children and reverse the lower court’s order.”

“The state laws that Planned Parenthood is seeking to overturn require better medical care, but Planned Parenthood, a business that calls itself a `health’ organization, is fighting to attempt to ensure that substandard regulations remain law,” she said in a statement. “Women deserve health and safety; they don’t forfeit that when they consider having an abortion.”

The laws, passed by the Republican majority at the 2021 Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Gianforte this April, ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, severely restrict abortion-inducing pills, or “medication abortion,” and require providers to ask women if they want to hear the fetal heartbeat or see an ultrasound of the fetus before having an abortion.

Planned Parenthood of Montana and one of its physicians filed suit in August to invalidate them, calling the law an unconstitutional invasion of women’s privacy and unlawful infringement on their ability to make their own health-care decisions.

Judge Michael Moses

Planned Parenthood asked Moses to block the laws from taking effect Oct. 1, while he decided the larger issues of their constitutionality.

Moses issued temporarily stopped the laws from taking effect on Sept. 30 and then issued a preliminary injunction blocking the laws from being enforced on Oct. 7.

His 35-page order also said Planned Parenthood had made a strong case that the laws violated women’s right to privacy.

The Montana Supreme Court now will decide whether Moses’ order blocking the laws is proper, and possibly indicate how it would rule on their constitutionality.

In his order, Moses said banning abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy appears to violate a woman’s right to privacy, because a fetus generally doesn’t become viable until 24 weeks of gestation.

He also said the new restrictions on medication abortion – such as requiring women to see a provider in person before getting the medication or enforcing a 24-hour waiting period – infringe on that privacy right.

And, the judge said the law requiring abortion providers to ask women if they want to see an ultrasound of the fetus or listen to its heartbeat appears to “stigmatize or discourage women from obtaining an abortion in Montana,” which he said is a protected right.