Planned Parenthood asks Montana judge to block law that bans 2nd-trimester abortion method

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Planned Parenthood of Montana on Tuesday asked a state judge to temporarily block a law that bans the abortion method most commonly used after 15 weeks of gestation, arguing it is unconstitutional.

The organization filed the complaint over the law to ban dilation and evacuation abortions just hours after Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte’s office announced he had signed the bill.

The law “is the latest salvo in the Legislature’s ongoing assault on Montanans’ right to seek safe and lawful pre-viability abortions — a right guaranteed by the Montana Constitution,” the complaint states.

Montana’s Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that the state constitutional right to privacy includes the right to a pre-viability abortion from a provider of the patient’s choice, the lawsuit states.

Under the new ban, which took effect immediately, anyone who performs a dilation and evacuation abortion can be charged with a felony that can be punished by 5 to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $50,000. There are exceptions for medical emergencies.

The new law “is a grave threat to Montanans’ health and safety and must be blocked,” Martha Fuller, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana, said in a statement. “Given the law’s immediate effective date, patients across the state can already be denied access to care that was legally available moments before the governor’s signature today.”

Planned Parenthood sought a preemptive ban on the law last month after the bill had been passed by the Legislature, but before it was signed by Gianforte. District Court Judge Kathy Seeley said she could not restrain a law that was not yet in effect.

The office of Attorney General Austin Knudsen filed a motion on May 8 asking the court to sanction the attorneys and the plaintiffs for seeking the temporary restraining order before the law was in effect.

Planned Parenthood said it filed the lawsuit before the bill was signed because it had an immediate effective date and implicated constitutionally protected medical procedures.

“House Bill 721 does not prevent a single woman from having an abortion. Instead, it prohibits a barbaric abortion procedure," said Emily Flower, spokeswoman for the Montana Department of Justice.

Abortions can also be performed by using medications to induce labor and delivery. The procedure takes place in a hospital where the patient can be monitored.

“None of the alternatives offered by the state for the banned procedure are feasible," Planned Parenthood of Montana said in a statement. "They also carry more risk to the patient. This law bans the safest procedure after 15 weeks.”

The new law being challenged also includes a provision that says: “The right of individual privacy as referenced in the Montana Constitution ... does not create, and may not be construed as creating or recognizing, a right to abortion or to governmental funding of abortions," as part of a Republican effort to require the Montana Supreme Court to reconsider the 1999 Armstrong ruling.

The Montana Supreme Court cited the Armstrong ruling last week in saying advanced practice registered nurses can continue to provide abortion care if they are properly trained.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers did receive an order to temporarily block a state rule that required prior authorization before Medicaid paid for an abortion. Planned Parenthood obtained an order to block another law that called for a 24-week abortion ban and required an ultrasound before an abortion could be performed.

A hearing over whether a judge should grant preliminary injunctions blocking the rule and the ultrasound law are scheduled for May 23.