Judge blocks new Montana abortion laws amid legal challenge
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A judge has blocked three laws restricting abortion access in Montana while a legal challenge is underway.
Yellowstone District Court Judge Michael Moses issued a preliminary injunction Thursday that temporarily stops the laws from going into effect, after Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state in August arguing the new laws violate the Montana Constitution.
The laws would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, restrict access to abortion pills and require abortion providers to ask patients if they would like to view an ultrasound.
Moses wrote in his decision to grant the preliminary injunction that abortion patients would be “irreparably harmed through the loss of their constitutional rights” if the laws were to take effect while the legal challenge is ongoing.
The suit names Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, as a defendant. A spokesperson for Knudsen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Planned Parenthood has argued the laws violate Montana’s constitutional right to privacy, which they say protects access to abortion before the fetus is viable, generally at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
The laws were passed earlier this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, who last November became Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years. His Democratic predecessors blocked previous attempts to limit abortion access.
Republican lawmakers who supported the measures said they would protect the health of pregnant women and fetuses. But medical experts broadly dispute that the new laws would make the procedure safer.
The decision was issued by Moses after he stepped in to last week following a request from the state that Yellowstone District Court Judge Gregory Todd recuse himself, saying the judge expressed personal bias and prejudice against the state regarding a separate case. That case relates to a new law changing the way judicial vacancies are filled.
Samuels is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.