Helena, Mont. — The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana filed a lawsuit today in State District Court in Lewis and Clark County, challenging a Montana law that restricts access to abortion care in the state.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), including Helen Weems, a certified nurse practitioner, and their patients. The lawsuit asks the court to block a Montana law that prohibits APRNs from providing abortion care, despite the demonstrated safety of abortion and the proven ability of APRNs to provide early abortion with the same safety and efficacy as physicians and physician assistants.
Only a handful of clinics currently provide abortions in Montana, each separated by great distances. Because of this shortage of abortion providers, many Montanans seeking access to abortion services face significant burdens, including the time and costs of having to travel several hours to their nearest provider.
Said Nancy Northup, President and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Medically unjustified laws that prevent qualified clinicians from providing abortion services are unconstitutional. They further restrict abortion access in states where it is already limited, while serving no valid medical purpose.”
“The Center for Reproductive Rights will continue to fight to ensure abortion providers in Montana and across the country are able to serve their communities and all people have access to the services they need.”
Said Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana:
“In a state as large and sparsely populated as Montana, it’s common sense to expand access to safe abortion care by allowing APRNs to provide this much-needed healthcare service.
“Prohibiting APRNs from providing abortions is not just bad policy — it’s unconstitutional. Our plaintiff APRNs just want to be able to provide safe, compassionate care to their patients. The Montana Constitution demands that they be allowed to do so.”
In 1997, the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged a Montana law restricting the provision of abortion to physicians only. The law targeted Susan Cahill, then the only physician assistant providing abortion services in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law because it violated Montana’s strong constitutional protection for privacy and procreative autonomy, including an individual’s right to obtain an abortion from a health care provider of their choice.
Ms. Weems now joins Ms. Cahill to re-open All Families Healthcare, a clinic Cahill ran until it was vandalized and destroyed in 2014. All Families will restore abortion services to Flathead and the surrounding counties, which have been without an abortion provider since then.
Medical and public health authorities including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association and the World Health Organization have all concluded that laws prohibiting APRNs from providing early abortion services are medically unfounded.
Hillary Schneller and Hailey Flynn from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Alex Rate from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana filed today’s challenge in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County, on behalf of Helen Weems MSN, APRN-FNP and Jane Doe, MSN, CNM-WHNP.