AG to appeal injunction on abortion restrictions to Supreme Court

A district court judge halted the three bills earlier this month

By: - October 20, 2021 1:10 pm

The entrance to the Montana Supreme Court (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

The state of Montana intends to appeal a preliminary injunction barring implementation of three bills restricting abortion passed in the last legislative session, according to a notice of appeal filed with the state Supreme Court by Attorney General Austin Knudsen on Tuesday.

Briefs arguing the merits of the injunction won’t be due for several weeks if not longer — so the state’s appeal of Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses’ injunction order has the effect of preserving the status quo for the time being.

Planned Parenthood of Montana filed suit against four abortion laws in August. Moses granted a preliminary injunction to halt three of them — House Bills 136, 171 and 140 — while the legal proceeding continued, writing that the plaintiffs and their patients would be “irreparably harmed through the loss of their constitutional rights” if the laws were to go into effect before the court reached a final decision.

House Bill 136 bans abortion after 20 weeks gestation — a measure that Moses said in his initial injunction order is “likely unconstitutional” as it would cut off access to the procedure pre-viability. HB140 requires doctors to offer ultrasounds to patients seeking an abortion, while HB171 bans the provision of medication abortions by mail and makes it more difficult to get the medication prescribed in person. The Planned Parenthood suit also challenges a fourth law, not covered in the injunction order, which prevents insurance sold under the Affordable Care Act from covering abortion.

All of the bills passed with wide support by Republican lawmakers, who have substantial majorities in both houses of the state Legislature. The GOP had made previous attempts at similar legislation, but those largely fell to the veto pen of a succession of Democratic governors. The election of Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte, a staunch social conservative, opened the door for those bills to pass this session, an opportunity that lawmakers didn’t miss.

Planned Parenthood declined to comment on the notice until the actual appeal is submitted. Spokespeople for Knudsen, who’s acting as the state’s lawyer in his capacity as Attorney General, did not return request for comment.

In District Court briefs, Planned Parenthood argued that the abortion laws violated the unique and stringent privacy protections in the state constitution, and that they’ll “reduce the number and geographic distribution of locations in Montana where women can access safe and effective abortion care.”

In briefs opposing the preliminary injunction, the Attorney General’s office said the plaintiffs were looking to overturn modest and duly enacted “standard-of-care improvements.”

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.