Groups add two more recently signed abortion law to legal challenge

House Bills 862 and 544 would restrict abortion for those on Medicaid

By: - May 18, 2023 6:52 pm

Gov. Greg Gianforte claps before signing five abortion laws on May 3, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Almost as soon as Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed four abortion bills into law, groups challenging new abortion restrictions in the state amended their lawsuit to include two more bills into their plea for a preliminary injunction that would halt the laws from going into effect.

The paperwork was sent to the Lewis and Clark County District Court late Thursday, and the two new laws may be added to a group of abortion-related laws that were passed by the 2023 legislature. The groups allege that all of them violate the state’s established constitutional right to obtain an abortion before the point of viability.

Gianforte signed House Bill 862 and House Bill 544 into law on Tuesday afternoon, applauding the supermajority Republican legislature for passing nine anti-abortion bills during the session that he cheered on as “pro-life, pro-child and pro-family.”

House Bill 862 is similar to the “Hyde Amendment” on the federal level, which prohibits Medicaid from paying for abortions unless medically necessary. The stricter definitions adopted by the legislature could effectively stop Medicaid patients from seeking an abortion. Other new laws allow the state to investigate the circumstances of the abortion, and possibly pursue sanctions, including a loss of licensure, if a medical provider doesn’t meet the criteria.

Clinics and groups suing to stop the new laws include the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, Planned Parenthood of Montana and the Center for Reproductive Rights. They argue that these new laws will limit a woman’s options so severely that it essentially makes it impossible to obtain an abortion. It also says that the laws discriminate against those on Medicaid.

House Bill 544 also limits access to abortion for Medicaid patients so severely as to make it impossible to obtain.

Attorneys have argued that restrictions are not only a violation of the state’s right to individual privacy, which has been held by the Montana Supreme Court to include decisions between a health provider and patient, but they also have argued that the new laws effectively treat citizens differently based on whether they have Medicaid or another form of insurance.

The two bills scheduled effective date is July 1, and the groups say if they become law, it will mean that any patient with Medicaid would be blocked from an abortion, and even if a medical provider performs one, it could subject them to strict penalties.

For example, the groups said the law redefines “medically necessary” to even further restrict abortion access for Medicaid patients.

The groups challenging the lawsuit issued the following joint statement early Thursday evening:

“Once again, Montana’s elected officials have proven they will stop at nothing to take away people’s health care and control their personal medical decisions — including by targeting the most marginalized populations. Should they be allowed to take effect, these two laws … will drastically undermine Montanans’ access to reproductive health care and put real lives at risk. All Montanans, regardless of their insurance status or circumstances, deserve vital, timely, and potentially life-saving care. We will not stop fighting for all Montanans and will continue to challenge politicians’ gross infringements on our rights and personal freedom. The ability to make decisions about one’s body, life, and future should remain in the hands of Montanans and their families — not the State.”



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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.