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Judge Blocks Montana Law Prohibiting Nurses From Performing Abortions (Updated)

Nicole Knight

All but nine states have imposed “physician only” restrictions on who can perform an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

UPDATE, May 7, 10:24 a.m.: The Montana Supreme Court recently upheld a ruling allowing advanced practice registered nurses to provide abortion care. Meanwhile, the challenge to the state law barring advanced nurses from providing abortions continues. 

Two nurses challenging the constitutionality of a Montana abortion law were handed a temporary win in court last week.

A Montana district court judge temporarily blocked a state law barring highly skilled nurses from providing abortion services under threat of criminal prosecution.

The preliminary injunction allows plaintiffs Helen Weems, an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), and an unidentified certified nurse midwife, to complete their training to provide abortion services in the state, according to a statement by their attorneys.

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Weems operates All Families Healthcare in Whitefish. More than 90 percent of Montana counties are without an abortion clinic, and 55 percent of Montana women live in those counties, according to 2014 figures from the Guttmacher Institute.  

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana had challenged the Montana Abortion Control Act on behalf of the nurses. The law permits only licensed physicians and physician assistants to provide abortion care in the state.

In his decision, District Court Judge Mike Menahan cited a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health that found similarly low complication rates whether nurse practitioners, certified nurse midwives, physician assistants, or doctors performed an abortion.

“The court’s decision also concludes that the state has no compelling reasons for allowing only physicians and physician assistants to provide abortion services,” Hillary Schneller, staff attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

All but nine states have imposed “physician only” restrictions on who can perform an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Abortion providers in Maine are also challenging the state’s “physician only” law.

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