MONTANA: ‘Partial-Birth’ Abortion Ban Struck Down
A Montana judge ruled yesterday that the state's ban on "partial-birth" abortions is unconstitutional, calling it "unclear" and lacking "compelling interest to justify violating privacy rights." The Billings Gazette reports that District Judge Jeffrey Sherlock ruled in favor of a doctor and two family planning clinics that sought to ban a law that made it "illegal for doctors to perform certain late-term abortions, except to save the life of the mother." Sherlock concurred with the plaintiffs' claim that the measure violated "constitutional rights of due process, privacy and speech." Sherlock said the law was "unclear" as to "what type of procedure" it seeks to prohibit "and infringes on a woman's right to choose whether to end her pregnancy." He also said that "the law violates federal court decisions by seeking to ban abortions provided after the first three months of pregnancy," except for those performed in state-licensed hospitals, and "illegally prevents people or agencies from soliciting or advertising to attract a person to have an abortion."
In his ruling, the judge assailed the law's ambiguous wording: "The legislative language is not precise and it impacts otherwise constitutionally protected rights to obtain other types of abortion. ... In passing these bills, the Legislature apparently accidentally forgot that these provisions have been enjoined by federal courts" (Billings, 6/30). Sherlock also said the law "could force women to use methods that were unaffordable or unsafe" (USA Today, 6/30).
Usurping the Constitution?
Montana Right to Life Association Executive Director David Halvorson "decried Sherlock's ruling as usurping the will of those who wrote the Montana Constitution and decided to leave the issue of abortion rights up to the Legislature," the AP/Nando Times reports. Gail Gutsche, board chair of the Montana Chapter of the National Abortion and Reproductive Action League, said: "This is exceptionally good news for Montana women. I applaud Judge Sherlock for upholding our right to privacy and our right to choose." According to the AP/Nando Times, the ruling was expected, as Sherlock had enjoined the law in October for the duration of the suit (Anez, 6/30). The Billings Gazette reports that Montana Solicitor Clay Smith said "the state likely will decide within the next two weeks whether to appeal the ruling to the Montana Supreme Court" (6/30).
Florida, Virginia Bans In The News
Read the Daily Reproductive Health Report to see the latest news on legal maneuvering over late-term abortion bans in Florida and Virginia. Abortion rights groups in Florida are making a last-minute attempt to stop a partial-birth ban from taking effect tomorrow. The Daily Reproductive Health Report, sponsored by the Kaiser Family Foundation, is available free online through the foundation's Website -- www.kff.org.