Abortion rights advocates file challenges to new restrictions in Montana 

By Patrick Barnham

Montana abortion advocates filed an amended complaint in state court challenging HB 862 and HB 544, two new anti-abortion laws. HB 862, like the federal Hyde Amendment, would prohibit the use of public funds for abortion care in almost all cases, while HB 544 is almost identical to a recent health department rule limiting abortion access for Medicaid patients. Both bills were signed into law earlier this week by Gov. Greg Gianforte and take effect on July 1.

The amended complaint was filed by All Families Healthcare, Blue Mountain Clinic, and Planned Parenthood of Montana in their existing lawsuit against a Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) rule that would effectively eliminate abortion access for most Medicaid patients in the state. The DPHHS rule is currently blocked by a temporary restraining order. Abortion providers are seeking preliminary injunctions to block all three measures.

Joint statement from leaders from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Center for Reproductive Rights, ACLU of Montana on behalf of All Families Healthcare, Blue Mountain Clinic, and Planned Parenthood of Montana:

“Once again, Montana’s elected officials have proven they will stop at nothing to take away people’s health care and control their personal medical decisions — including by targeting the most marginalized populations. Should they be allowed to take effect, these two laws, in addition to the DPHHS rule, will drastically undermine Montanans’ access to reproductive health care and put real lives at risk. All Montanans, regardless of their insurance status or circumstances, deserve vital, timely, and potentially life-saving care. We will not stop fighting for all Montanans and will continue to challenge politicians’ gross infringements on our rights and personal freedom. The ability to make decisions about one’s body, life, and future should remain in the hands of Montanans and their families — not the State.”

Without judicial relief, both HB 862 and HB 544 will significantly limit abortion access for Montanans with low incomes. Currently, the state of Montana covers medically necessary abortions for those enrolled in Medicaid. Like the DPHHS rule, HB 544 will effectively eliminate Medicaid patients’ ability to access abortion. The law mandates that only physicians can provide abortions to Medicaid patients, drastically narrowing the already limited pool of available abortion providers in the state; imposes an unnecessary physical exam requirement— eliminating telehealth abortion for Medicaid-eligible Montanans; and forces providers to seek prior authorization for abortions for Montanans eligible for Medicaid, which delays access to time-sensitive services. The law also redefines “medically necessary” to further restrict abortion access for Medicaid recipients.

HB 862 goes even further by blocking Montanans from using their Medicaid health insurance coverage to get an abortion entirely. Because of structural racism and discrimination, barriers to sexual and reproductive health care— such as the Hyde Amendment — disproportionately harm Indigenous, Black, and Latino communities and members of the 2S-LGBTQIA+ community.

The lawsuits were filed by Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Raph Graybill of the Graybill Law Firm, and Tanis Holm of Edmiston & Colton Law Firm on behalf of Planned Parenthood of Montana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights, the ACLU of Montana, and Erin Erickson of Bohyer, Erickson, Beaudette, and Tranel P.C. on behalf of All Families Healthcare and Blue Mountain Clinic.

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