After nearly nine years, Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen says it’s time for the court to lift the preliminary injunction on a state abortion law that turned out to be anything but temporary.
In a strongly worded motion, Mr. Knudsen said that House Bill 391, a 2013 law that requires parental consent before a minor may undergo an abortion, “must be allowed to take effect immediately. Not next week. Not on or after June 10, 2022. Today.”
A hearing is scheduled Tuesday in state district court on the request to remove the preliminary injunction, which was issued shortly after the measure became law.
“The State moves to dissolve the preliminary injunction in this case,” said the April 20 motion. “It’s been 3,181 days since the consent injunction was entered. That’s eight years, eight-and-a-half months, or 104.5 months, or 34.8 trimesters since the State agreed to a preliminary injunction because it was confident the case would be decided quickly.”
Then-Attorney General Tim Fox agreed to the preliminary injunction in response to a lawsuit filed by Planned Parenthood of Montana against the 2013 law and a 2012 ballot measure requiring parental notification before a minor could obtain an abortion.
The consent law was enjoined while the notification requirement remained in effect after passing with 71% of the vote.
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“Defendants now seek to dissolve this partial injunction for no other reason than they believe this case is proceeding too slowly,” said the Planned Parenthood motion. “This motion is patently meritless, as well as inexplicable at this point when the court has indicated its intention of ruling on the parties’ summary judgment motions in short order.”
The case is slated for oral argument June 10 in Lewis and Clark County District Court in Helena.
Planned Parenthood also said the state offered “no evidence suggesting the circumstances justifying preservation of the status quo have changed,” while Mr. Knudsen said it was never the state’s intention to enjoin the law “for almost a decade.”
“The circumstances changed because [of] the passage of time and judicial inaction,” the motion said. “This Court possesses authority to dissolve the injunction based on the ongoing inequities inflicted by prior judicial inaction.”
House Bill 391 became law without the signature of then-Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, after passing both houses of the Republican-led state Legislature.
The battle to spring the years-old law from “judicial purgatory” comes with a host of other Republican-backed abortion laws hamstrung by Montana state courts.
In October, Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses slapped preliminary injunctions on three 2021 Montana laws that place restrictions on abortion.
The laws prohibit abortions in most cases after 20 weeks, known as a “pain-capable” provision; require abortion providers to offer ultrasounds to patients, and ban chemical abortion-inducing medications from being dispensed via mail and without a medical examination.
Judge Moses said that the laws pose “irreparable harm” to the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights, while Mr. Knudsen has sought to vacate the order, saying the measures “protect the health and safety of women who are considering or seeking an abortion.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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