ACLU Sues Montana Over Law Requiring that Only Doctors Perform Abortions

Posted: Jan 31, 2018 10:50 AM

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit in Montana Tuesday, arguing that advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) should be permitted by law to perform abortions. The state's law currently only allows physicians and physician assistants to perform the procedure.

The ACLU along with the Center for Reproductive Rights are suing on behalf of certified nurse practitioner Helen Weems and a second, anonymous certified nurse who both, according to the lawsuit, "engage in patient care that is comparable to, or more complex, and carries more risk than abortion in the first and early second trimester."

"Medically unjust laws that prevent qualified clinicians from providing abortion services are unconstitutional," Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, claimed in a statement. "They further restrict abortion access in states where it is already limited, while serving no valid medical purpose."

Caitlin Borgmann, Executive Director of the ACLU of Montana, says that the lawsuit also had to do with improving abortion access.

“In a state as large and sparsely populated as Montana, it’s common sense to expand access to safe abortion care by allowing APRNs to provide this much-needed healthcare service," Borgmann said. “Prohibiting APRNs from providing abortions is not just bad policy — it’s unconstitutional. Our plaintiff APRNs just want to be able to provide safe, compassionate care to their patients. The Montana Constitution demands that they be allowed to do so.”

The Montana Supreme Court allowed physician assistants to perform abortions in a 1998 ruling finding that the state’s abortion law that allowed only physicians to perform abortions violated a patient’s right to access a medical procedure from the health care provider of their choice. 

“It specifically says that people should be able to access abortions from a qualified health care provider of their choice, and that's not limited to physician assistants,” Borgmann says of the past ruling.

The ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued Maine in September over a similar law allowing only doctors to perform abortions.

Laws requiring that abortions be provided only by medical doctors are currently on the books in 41 states.