Here’s what the Supreme Court ruling on abortion means for Montana

By: - June 24, 2022 11:00 am

Protestors outside the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1, 2021 as the high court considered a Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks (Photo by Jane Norman for the Daily Montanan).

The United States Supreme Court did what many had expected after Politico obtained a leaked copy of a draft opinion regarding Roe vs. Wade, and overturned the landmark ruling Friday. Here’s what the ruling means for Montana.

In its decision, Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that previous Supreme Court justices had gotten Roe and other abortion cases wrong when it said that there was a right to abortion implied in the constitution, even though the word never appears.

In the decision released Friday, the court struck down those rulings, saying that federal law does not uniformly protect the procedure as a right protected by the constitution, and absent a constitutional amendment, the nation’s controlling document therefore leaves it up to the individual states to regulate. The decision did not outlaw abortions, nor does it prevent states from making the procedure illegally. Essentially, the decision turns back the clock and resets it to the standard of more than a half-century ago.

Montana, like all other states, will fall back and rely on its constitution and state law to dictate how abortion will be controlled.

Every state bordering Montana has passed legislation with trigger bans that will take effect within a month.

In 1999, a decision, known as Armstrong vs. State of Montana authored by Justice James C. Nelson found that Montana’s constitution protected a woman’s right to privacy while making medical decisions. Though Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has asked the state Supreme Court to reconsider that decision, the high court has so far declined to revisit it, leaving abortion supported by legal precedent.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature, controlled in both Houses by a large majority of Republicans, passed four different laws that put significant restrictions on the procedure in the state. Those measures were supported by Gov. Greg Gianforte. They were quickly challenged in state court where a judge placed a temporary injunction on the measures until the case, which will likely make its way to the state Supreme Court, will be decided.

This means that abortion, as practiced in Montana, will be largely unchanged for the moment. On Friday, Montana Senate President Mark Blasdel, of Kalispell, and House Majority Leader Sue Vinton of Billings released a joint statement praising the Supreme Court decision and calling on the Montana Supreme Court to overturn the 1999 decision.

What they’re saying…

Here’s what Montana politicians and leaders are saying about the Supreme Court’s decision on abortion:

“Today we celebrate the Supreme Court’s historic decision to correct a constitutionally wrong decision from decades ago that has harmed so many. As the debate over abortion shifts to the states, all eyes in Montana need to be on our own judicial branch of government. Montana judges should rule based on the text of our state constitution, which doesn’t mention abortion at all, and overturn the activist and erroneous Armstrong decision.” — Montana Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Majority Leader Sue Vinton

“With this decision, an all-out ban on abortion is on the table in a way we have not seen for decades. Now, our state’s Constitutional right to privacy is the only thing standing between Montanans and the politicians who want to control the most intimate aspects of our private decision making.” – Montana Senate Minority Leader Jill Cohenour and House Minority Leader Kim Abbott.

“Although we are outraged and saddened by the ruling, it is important for Montanans, and for people in neighboring states, to know that abortion remains legal here. Our state constitution’s right to privacy has long protected Montanans’ right to make private medical decisions without interference from politicians. At Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, we are proud to uphold Planned Parenthood of Montana’s mission to provide patients with the health services they need and deserve, including abortion care. Their doors are open and will continue offering the non-judgmental, high-quality care our patients depend on them for–regardless of who they love, where they live, and how much money they make,” —Martha Fuller, chief executive officer, Planned Parenthood of Montana.

“For nearly 50 years, women have been able to make their own healthcare decisions without interference from the government. The Supreme Court’s ruling now means women and doctors will be put in jail when exercising this long-held right in states across the country. No judge or politician should be telling women how to live their lives or undermining their fundamental right to privacy. ” — Sen. Jon Tester

“The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs today ends a historic injustice, and returns the power to the American people, through their elected representatives, to protect unborn children and their mothers from the violence of abortion.” — Sen. Steve Daines

“Today’s Supreme Court decision is a historic victory for life, but it is only a first step. As certain states work to undermine the sanctity of life moving forward, we must continue to fight to protect those who do not yet have a voice.” — Rep. Matt Rosendale

“Today marks a historic win for life, families, and science. With this monumental decision, the Supreme Court has restored power to the American people and their elected representatives. I’m in discussions with legislative leaders on next steps as we work to protect life in Montana.” —Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte

Editor’s note: The original 1999 court case that established Montana’s constitution covered abortions was misidentified. It has now been corrected.

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Darrell Ehrlick
Darrell Ehrlick

Darrell Ehrlick is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, after leading his native state’s largest paper, The Billings Gazette. He is an award-winning journalist, author, historian and teacher, whose career has taken him to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Utah, and Wyoming. With Darrell at the helm, the Gazette staff took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years. Darrell's books include writing the historical chapters of “Billings Memories” Volumes I-III, and “It Happened in Minnesota.” He has taught journalism at Winona State University and Montana State University-Billings, and has served on the student publications board of the University of Wyoming.

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