Mont. Parental Involvement Laws Draw Court Challenge

May 31, 2013 — Planned Parenthood of Montana on Thursday filed suit in a state district court against two laws (LR 120, HB 391) that require minors to involve their parents in abortion decisions, the AP/Great Falls Tribune reports (Haake, AP/Great Falls Tribune, 5/30).

LR 120, which was approved through a ballot measure in 2012, mandates that minors younger than age 16 notify their parents before obtaining an abortion. The law includes exceptions for medical emergencies and for minors who petition a Youth Court for a waiver (Women's Health Policy Report, 11/7/12).

The second measure requires minors under 18 to obtain parental consent before abortions. With the expectation that the law would be struck down in court, Gov. Steve Bullock (D) last month allowed the legislation to become law without his signature. The strategic move also simultaneously killed a companion referendum (HB 521) that would have otherwise gone before voters in 2014 (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/26).

According to the Montana Standard, HR 391 will supersede the 2012 parental notification law once it takes effect on July 1 (Dennison, Montana Standard, 5/31).

Arguments in PPMT Suit

PPMT argues that both laws should be struck down on the grounds that they violate women's constitutional right to privacy. The group is also seeking an injunction to block enforcement of HB 391 while the suit proceeds (AP/Great Falls Tribune, 5/30).

The suit notes that a Montana court in 1999 struck down a parental notification law for violating a minor's right to abortion. It argues that the current measures restrict minors' rights in a similar way.

Stacey Anderson -- director of public affairs for PPMT -- said the organization encourages discussion between adults and adolescents about sexuality, but "[t]he sad truth is that some teens live in dangerous homes and can't go to their parents." She added, "The intent of [these laws] is to make it extraordinarily difficult for girls from abusive families to get access to health care" (Montana Standard, 5/31).

Bill Sponsor, Attorney General's Office Respond

State Rep. Jerry Bennett (R), the sponsor of HB 521, said it would hold up in court because it includes a provision -- absent from the 1995 law -- that allows minors to ask a judge for a bypass from the consent requirement (AP/Great Falls Tribune, 5/30).

John Barnes -- a spokesperson for state Attorney General Tim Fox (R) -- said the state will "defend these laws vigorously at every stage of the process," adding that "voters and duly elected representatives have made it very clear they want the parental notification and consent laws on the books" (Montana Standard, 5/31).