02.25.2022 -- (PRESS RELEASE) Today, a Montana state trial court permanently blocked a law that prevented advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from providing abortion care in the state on threat of criminal prosecution. Prior to today’s ruling, the law was narrowly blocked by the Montana Supreme Court in April 2019, allowing plaintiff Helen Weems (APRN) to continue providing abortion care to her patients. Today’s ruling extends that ability to all APRNs in the state and provides an opportunity to expand access to abortion in Montana. The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana filed the lawsuit in 2018.
Evidence demonstrates that APRNs provide early abortion care with the same safety and efficacy as physicians and physician assistants. Major medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association and the World Health Organization have all concluded that laws prohibiting APRNs from providing early abortion services are medically unfounded.
“Today’s ruling comes at a perilous time for abortion rights, and it is a relief to pave the way for abortion access to be expanded in Montana, rather than further restricted,” said Hillary Schneller, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “There is simply no reason to prohibit pregnant people from accessing abortion care from qualified clinicians like our clients. We applaud the court’s decision while preparing to continue to defend our clients against this unconstitutional and harmful restriction.”
“This win for the people of Montana makes it clear that privacy is an essential value that we will not willingly surrender,” said Caitlin Borgmann, executive director at the ACLU of Montana. “In the face of recent attacks on privacy and abortion, this ruling reaffirms the principle that in Montana privacy is fundamental, and no politician or law should be able to limit the healthcare decisions of Montanans.”
“We are thrilled that Helen Weems will be able to practice her chosen profession without interference from lawmakers and politicians,” said Alex Rate, legal director at the ACLU of Montana. “This ruling also made it clear that patients' rights to privacy – including their choice to have an abortion –cannot be limited without a compelling state reason."
“Today’s decision is a huge win for Montanans. Recognizing nurse practitioners and nurse midwives as safe, competent, legal providers of abortion is a significant step forward in making abortion more accessible in our state,” said Helen Weems, APRN and plaintiff in this case. “We live in a huge state with a very real scarcity of abortion providers. Opening the field to all qualified providers will go a long way in meeting the essential healthcare needs of all Montanans.”
Today’s ruling comes at a time when abortion rights are in grave danger across the country. A Supreme Court decision is expected this summer in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which challenges Mississippi’s 15-week ban on abortion. A decision in that case could overturn or undermine the protections offered by Roe v. Wade. Should that happen, more than half of states could move to ban abortion.
In 1997, the Center for Reproductive Rights challenged a similar Montana law restricting the provision of abortion to physicians only. The law targeted Susan Cahill, then the only physician assistant providing abortion services in the state. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the law because it violated Montana’s strong constitutional protection for privacy and procreative autonomy, including an individual’s right to obtain an abortion from a health care provider of their choice.
The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Montana filed this case in Montana’s First Judicial District Court in Lewis and Clark County, on behalf of Helen Weems MSN, APRN-FNP and Jane Doe, MSN, CNM-WHNP in 2018.