ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights file suit to strike down Montana abortion restriction

Groups ask Supreme Court to invalidate rule restricting advanced-practice nurses from performing abortion

By: - September 16, 2022 4:42 pm

(Photo by Getty Images).

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union in Montana have asked the Montana Supreme Court to uphold a Lewis and Clark district court judge’s ruling that advanced practice registered nurses can perform abortions in the state.

The case is an extension of a years-long battle that started before the United States Supreme Court struck down Roe vs. Wade, and hinges upon the state’s landmark 1999 decision that the state’s constitution protects the autonomy and privacy of woman to make decisions about her health without state interference.

“The restriction further reduces the already small pool of abortion providers in the state, compounding the burdens pregnant people face when seeking abortion services,” attorneys with the ACLU argue. “It increases costs and travel, and contributes to needless delay, which forces people to endure the comparatively higher risks of continued pregnancy … Reducing the number of providers and barring the expansion of the pool of competent providers would only—once again—make accessing abortion as difficult, as inconvenient, and as costly as possible under the guise of protecting women’s health.”

At issue is whether advanced-practice registered nurses are qualified to perform abortions, whether health outcomes are different for those abortions performed by doctors, and whether a law, passed by the Montana Legislature that specifically bans advanced-practice nurses, who can work independently, is legal.

The State of Montana, through the Attorney General’s Office, has argued that lawmakers have the right to regulate medical practitioners and that the law does little to restrict abortion in the state because other doctors practicing family medicine or obstetrics and gynecology could provide the services if they chose to do so.

However, the ACLU points to a string of successive victories and depositions that show advanced-practice registered nurses in medical disciplines like obstetrics and gynecology are trained in the procedure, and that the patient outcomes from those cases remain virtually identical to those performed by medical doctors.

Montana courts had also asked the state’s board of nursing to clarify and answer the question whether advanced-practice nurses, who have received additional specialized training beyond a registered nurse, are qualified to perform abortions. The Montana State Board of Nursing answered affirmatively, and pointed out that advanced-practice physicians, like doctors, are granted licenses to practice within the scope of their training and not on a procedure-by-procedure basis.

“The restriction targets abortion but does not bar APRNs from providing equally or more dangerous procedures and medications,” the lawsuit said.

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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.