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Big Sky Connection

Like other states, lawmakers in Montana have passed bills that would restrict access to abortion. However, a 1999 court decision provides an extra layer of protection for abortion care in the state. Comments from Caitlin Borgmann, executive director, ACLU of Montana. (Additional pronouncer: Knudsen, "kuh-NUD-sen.")

Click on the image for the audio.  Montana and other states have protected abortion access under constitutional provisions that recognize a person's right to privacy. (trac1/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

April 1, 2022

Montana is part of a national trend of increasing challenges to abortion access. An injunction was placed on three abortion restriction bills passed in the 2021 session. Now, Attorney General Austin Knudsen wants the state Supreme Court to lift the injunction.


The barrier to the bills being enforced is a 1999 case, Armstrong v. State, in which abortion access was linked to Montana's privacy protections. Knudsen called the decision "judicial activism."


Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the ACLU of Montana, described the Armstrong decision as "Montana's Roe v. Wade."


"Without overturning Armstrong, they know that the measures like the ones that passed in 2021 are unconstitutional," she said. "I think that's pretty obvious, and that's why the attorney general is asking the Montana Supreme Court to overturn Armstrong."


The ACLU of Montana, along with the National Women's Law Center and the Center for Reproductive Rights, have filed a "friend of the court" brief, asking the court to keep the Armstrong decision in place. The bills lawmakers passed in 2021 restrict abortion after 20 weeks, require ultrasounds for patients seeking abortions and create barriers to obtaining abortion medication in person and by mail.


Borgman said a contingent of Montana politicians has made it their mission to stop abortions, but past polls have shown the majority of Montanans believe the medical procedure should be legal, in all or most cases.


"I don't think that that threat necessarily represents the will of Montanans as a whole," she said, "and Montana is just different, in that we have this specific protection in the Montana Constitution."


Borgmann said overturning the privacy protections in the Armstrong decision would affect more than just abortion access. She contended it would harm the state's most vulnerable populations, especially members of the LGBTQ community.


"These laws are a clear and deliberate attempt by politicians to undermine and denigrate the Montana Constitution," she said, " and not just the right to abortion, but the right to privacy more generally."