(Revised 5.16.23) The Montana Supreme Court permanently struck down a law that prohibited advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from providing abortion care and reaffirmed the right to abortion under the state constitution. The lawsuit was brought by Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two 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. Numerous states bordering Montana have also banned abortion since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June 2022.
Plaintiff(s): Helen Weems MSN, APRN-FNP and Jane Doe, MSN, CNM-WHNP.
Attorney(s): Hillary Schneller
Co-Counsel/Cooperating Attorneys: Alex Rate of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana
We filed our complaint and request for a preliminary injunction to temporarily block the law on January 30, 2018. On April 4, the district court granted our request, blocking the law with respect to the plaintiffs and allowing them to receive training to provide abortion services. The State filed an appeal of the preliminary injunction with the Montana Supreme Court, which affirmed the lower court’s ruling on April 26, 2019, and plaintiffs were able to continue providing care as the litigation continued on the merits.
On February 22, 2022, the trial court permanently struck down the restriction as a violation of the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy, which includes the right to have an abortion from the qualified provider of a person’s choosing. The decision extended the ability to receive abortion training to any interested APRNs, not just the plaintiffs. The State appealed the decision to the Montana Supreme Court, which held oral argument in December 2022.
On May 12, 2023 in a unanimous decision, the Montana Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s ruling and permanently struck down the law. The Court also reaffirmed that the state constitution guarantees the right of Montanans to seek abortion care from a qualified healthcare provider of their choice. “Abortions remain one of the safest procedures when performed collectively by health care providers, including APRNs,” all seven justices wrote. They recognized that “the record is devoid of any evidence that APRNs providing abortion care present a medically acknowledged, bona fide health risk to Montana women.” The ruling expands the eligible pool of abortion providers in the state.
- Complaint, 01.30.18
- Order Granting Preliminary Injunction, 04.04.18
- Montana Supreme Court Opinion Affirming Preliminary Injunction, 04.26.19
- Plaintiffs Memo of Law in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, 08.30.21
- Trial Court Decision, 02.25.22
- Montana Supreme Court Decision, 05.12.23
- Press Release: Center for Reproductive Rights, ACLU of Montana File Lawsuit Challenging Law That Prohibits Qualified Clinicians from Providing Abortions, 01.30.18
- Press Release: State Court Temporarily Blocks Montana Law Prohibiting Advance Practice Registered Nurses From Providing Abortion Services, 04.09.18
- Press Release: Montana Supreme Court Blocks Anti-Abortion Law, 04.29.19
- Press Release: Montana Court Blocks Restrictions on Abortion Providers, 02.25.22
- Press Release: Montana Supreme Court Expands Types of Clinicians Who Can Provide Abortions, 05.12.23