Big Sky Roundup

Abortion providers file lawsuit against state agency rule restricting Medicaid abortion

By: - April 28, 2023 7:53 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images.

Abortion providers in Montana filed a lawsuit against the state in district court on a rule they argue would eliminate access for Medicaid-funded abortions in the state, according to a Friday press release.

The lawsuit was filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the ACLU of Montana on behalf of All Families Healthcare, Blue Mountain Clinic, and Planned Parenthood of Montana.

“Pregnant people who rely on Medicaid deserve the same vital, timely, and potentially life-saving care as every other Montanan,” a joint statement from providers read. “Unless this rule is blocked, health inequity in the state will dramatically increase as patients are forced to travel even further afield to access the health care they need, if they can at all.”

Medicaid covers abortion care under three specific conditions outlined in the federal Hyde Amendment: If abortion would be necessary to save the life of the mother, the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest or if the pregnancy was deemed medically necessary. Abortion is protected in Montana under the state Supreme Court decision Armstrong v. State.

The new rule, announced last week under the Gianforte Administration and set to go into effect May 1, would require providers for Medicaid abortions to seek prior authorization for medically necessary abortions, require patients to receive a physical exam and require abortions to be conducted by a physician, excluding nurse practitioners.

In the release, providers said requiring physicians to perform abortions would drastically narrow the pool of abortion providers for the population on Medicaid, and the physical exam requirement would eliminate the option for telehealth care. They said requiring prior authorization would impose delays to access for time-sensitive services.

In the notice of amendment, the Department of Public Health and Human Services responded to complaints about the rule change.

In response to concerns about the exam requirement, the department said it recognizes that FDA standards changed to allow telehealth services for medication abortion, but says those guidelines are being litigated.

The department said the physical exam “will ensure that the safety and well-being of the female patient – as a Medicaid beneficiary – has been considered.”

Providers characterized the rule as a “dramatic and rushed effort” that violates Montanans’ rights under the state constitution.

“This is just another concerted effort to take away Montanans’ fundamental rights and restrict access to essential health care,” providers said.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.