Federal Court Considers Scope of Montana Parental Involvement Statutes

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Federal Court Considers Scope of Montana Parental Involvement Statutes

Jessica Mason Pieklo

A federal court will decide what, if any, restrictions pregnant minors in the state face should they need to terminate a pregnancy.

A federal court has heard arguments in a case challenging Montana’s parental consent and notification laws. The case will test the limits of an earlier state supreme court decision that ruled the state constitution’s right-to-privacy provisions include the right to terminate a pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood of Montana filed the lawsuit challenging the new parental consent restrictions this summer. The first law challenged was passed this legislative session and requires parental permission for anyone under 18 seeking an abortion. The second law, approved by voters as a ballot initiative last year, requires parental notification for anyone under 16 seeking an abortion.

In challenging the laws, Planned Parenthood argued that a 1999 Montana Supreme Court ruling gives minors the same privacy rights as adults, and that by singling minors out for special treatment when regulating abortion access, the Montana parental notification and consent laws deprive minors of their equal protection rights. That case struck as unconstitutional a 1995 parental consent law that did not provide for a judicial bypass for minors who could not obtain consent from their parents. The latest version of the parental consent law, and the one at issue in this lawsuit, does contain a judicial bypass mechanism.

Attorneys for the State of Montana counter that the restrictions are necessary to ensure the safety of minors who may not be mature enough to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy on their own.

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Should the court rule that the 1999 case applies, then the parental notification and consent provisions will be struck as unconstitutional. Should the court find that minors in Montana do not share the same privacy rights as adults and therefore not apply the 1999 ruling, then the case would proceed to trial for full consideration. Either way, the outcome of the lawsuit will determine the scope of restrictions minors in the state will face when trying to access abortion care.

A decision in the case is expected sometime in January.