Montana Supreme Court allows proposed ballot measure on abortion rights to advance - TAI News
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The Montana Supreme Court hears oral arguments in Helena, Montana, Jan. 8, 2020. (Thom Bridge/Independent Record via AP,File)

Abortion rights activists in Montana got a small win on March 18 after the state Supreme Court agreed to allow a proposed ballot initiative on abortion to proceed, overruling the state attorney general’s finding that the ballot was “legally insufficient.”

Ballot Issue 14, also known as the Montana Right to Abortion Initiative, was submitted in November 2023 by a group called Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights, which is led by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana. The proposed measure would add an amendment to the state Constitution that would guarantee a right to abortion and prevent the state government from criminalizing providers or anyone who helps someone obtain abortion care.

“I’ve seen patients and their families suffer because of abortion bans. Montanans don’t want politicians to determine their medical decisions, and they deserve to keep their rights protected from government overreach,” Dr. Samuel Dickman, the chief medical officer of Planned Parenthood of Montana and a petitioner in the case, said in a statement sent to the Montana Independent.

In January, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, blocked the proposal, alleging it would affect state spending, would confuse voters, and logrolled topics, or combined unrelated constitutional issues into one initiative. In the 6-1 ruling, the court found that the ballot initiative did not logroll and disagreed that it could confuse voters.

In the majority opinion, Montana Supreme Court Justice Ingrid Gustafson concluded that Knudsen’s claim that the initiative would impact the state budget could not be determined.

“Without a determination that a proposed ballot initiative will have a fiscal impact, no fiscal statement by the Attorney General is either warranted or provided for by statute,” the justice wrote.

Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling, the ballot issue must still pass through three steps before appearing on the general election ballot. First, it must be submitted to Montana’s Legislative Services Division, whose role it is to provide drafting of bills and amendments to legislators and the public; secondly, it must be reviewed by the office of the attorney general. Lastly, after the language is reviewed, the sponsor is notified by the secretary of state that the ballot issue has been either  approved or rejected. If it has been approved, the sponsor must collect 60,359 valid signatures from Montana voters in support of the issue, which must be submitted to county election administrators by June 21, 2024. 

“We urge the AG to approve the clear, neutral ballot statements submitted by MSRR with haste to avoid more unnecessary litigation,” said Martha Fuller, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, in an emailed statement. “We will continue to do everything we can to bring Ballot Issue #14 to Montana voters in November.”

Montana joins advocates in 12 states currently working to place constitutional amendment proposals related to abortion on the 2024 ballot since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022.

Abortion remains legal in Montana, and so far, efforts from the Republican governor and GOP-led legislature have done little to change that.  

“Fortunately, abortion is currently legal in Montana, but the ongoing attempts to ban and restrict abortion care by the Montana State Legislature show why we can’t rely on elected officials to protect our health care rights,” Dickman said. “It is the people of Montana who must fight to secure the right to abortion care.”

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The Montana Independent is a project of American Independent Media, a 501(c)(4) organization whose mission is to use journalism to educate the public, giving them the information they need about local and federal issues.