Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed on Wednesday a collection of bills restricting access to abortion, triggering legal action and challenging a 1999 state Supreme Court ruling on the procedure.
While abortion remains legal in Montana, the legislation specifies that access to the procedure until viability is no longer protected under the right of privacy in the state’s constitution – contradicting the court’s two decades old ruling.
“For years in Montana, abortion activists have used the cloak of a shaky legal interpretation to advance their pro-abortion agenda. That stops today,” Gianforte said in a statement Wednesday, describing the new laws as “giving a voice to the voiceless.”
The restrictions come as states navigate a new abortion landscape in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade last year, which removed federal abortion protections. Several Republican-led states have enacted restrictions, while some Democratic-led states have passed legislation expanding access to their residents and those seeking care from other states.
One of the new laws Gianforte signed Wednesday establishes a “right of conscience” that allows health care providers or institutions to refuse to perform abortions if it violates their “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles.”
Another bill, HB625, signed by Gianforte Wednesday, requires health care providers, in the rare case a baby is born alive after an attempted abortion, to give care to the infant or face fines and imprisonment. However, it is already considered homicide in the US to intentionally kill an infant that is born alive.
While Gianforte said that the slate of “pro-family, pro-child, pro-life bills will make a lasting difference in Montana,” Democrats and abortion rights advocates argue that the new laws add “unnecessary” provisions to restrict access.
Abortion rights advocates secured a preliminary victory Thursday, with a Montana judge temporarily blocking one measure, HB575, that would require a patient to have an ultrasound and get a written determination of viability from a provider in order to get an abortion.
The state’s Planned Parenthood chapter had filed an emergency relief request Wednesday after the provision took effect, arguing that requiring an ultrasound before a procedure effectively bans telehealth medication abortion. Such procedures have surged since the Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion last summer.
“Instead of trusting us to make our own decisions about our bodies and lives, Montana lawmakers are once again forcing their way into our exam rooms and blocking our access to essential health care,” said Martha Fuller, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana.
“By adding unnecessary and burdensome red tape to a safe and legal medical procedure, these politicians have made clear that it was never about our health and safety,” Fuller said in a statement Wednesday. “It was always about undermining our personal freedom and shaming people who seek abortions.”
This move is one of several legal battles related to reproductive rights playing out in state and federal courts. Near-total abortion bans in Indiana and Ohio remain in limbo after judges issued orders halting the restrictions.