Judge issues injunction in abortion provider case
By AMY BETH HANSON
Apr. 09, 2018
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An advanced practice registered nurse and a certified nurse midwife can provide abortions in Montana — as long as they have the proper training — while they challenge the constitutionality of a state law that allows only physicians and physician assistants to perform abortions, a judge has ruled.
District Judge Mike Menahan issued a preliminary injunction on April 4 in the case of Helen Weems of Whitefish and an unidentified midwife in a lawsuit filed in January with assistance from the Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU of Montana.
"Helen Weems and Jane Doe are qualified and highly competent healthcare providers," Hillary Schneller, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement Monday. "With this injunction in place, they can now pursue training and provide safe abortion care without the threat of prosecution."
In February 2018, Weems opened All Families Healthcare in Whitefish along with physician assistant Susan Cahill, who in 1997 successfully challenged a state law that said only physicians could perform abortions.
The Montana Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that the right to privacy in Montana's Constitution protects a woman's right of procreative autonomy and therefore the abortion law violated the right of a patient to obtain a lawful medical procedure from a health care provider of her choice. Menahan cited that decision in granting the preliminary injunction.
"The court concludes, at this stage of the litigation, the state has not met its burden in showing a compelling state interest in restricting Montana women's fundamental right to privacy," Menahan wrote.
The state argued that preventing enforcement of the Montana Abortion Control Act would result in unqualified advanced practice registered nurses performing abortions. The state did not provide any evidence to support that claim, Menahan wrote, while noting the ruling only applies to Weems and the midwife.
Menahan's ruling said Weems has not completed her training, but found there was "no harm in proactively applying a preliminary injunction to protect Weems from prosecution in the event she satisfies the competency requirements of the Board of Nursing and is operating within her scope of practice."
The Board of Nursing has the authority to investigate and sanction anyone who performs abortions without meeting its requirements, Menahan wrote.