Judge delays implementation of new Montana abortion laws
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A judge granted Thursday evening a temporary restraining order delaying the implementation of three laws restricting abortion access in Montana, hours before the laws were set to go into effect.
District Court Judge Michael Moses issued the temporary restraining order to remain in effect for 10 days or until Moses rules on a preliminary injunction requested by Planned Parenthood of Montana. 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.
The Thursday decision came after the state asked on Wednesday for the judge presiding over the case to recuse himself, arguing that during a hearing on the abortion cases, District Court Judge Gregory Todd 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.
Todd recused himself Thursday afternoon and was replaced with Moses.
Planned Parenthood of Montana filed the lawsuit in August seeking to block four laws, including the three that were set to go into effect on Oct. 1.
The suit names Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, as a defendant. The state is represented in the case by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group.
Knudsen’s spokesperson Emilee Cantrell said in a statement that the attorney general “took action to hold a judge accountable for their egregious bias.”
The state’s move to disqualify Todd from the case was an “outrageous delay tactic,” said Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana.
The call for Todd’s recusal launched a last-minute effort by Planned Parenthood to stop the law from going into effect. They filed an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court asking justices to temporarily block the enforcement of the new abortion laws until the matter of the judge was resolved. That petition was denied after the new judge was appointed. Planned Parenthood then requested that Moses grant a temporary restraining order while reviewing the call for a preliminary injunction. That request was granted.
Cantrell accused Planned Parenthood of “desperately trying to overturn Montana law at the eleventh hour and deprive pregnant women and unborn children of these commonsense health protections.” But medical experts broadly dispute that the new laws would make the procedure safer.
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.
Montana joins several other GOP-led states in passing additional restrictions on abortion access this year.