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Supreme Court abortion decision may not necessarily determine MT outcome

New MT law similar to one considered by high court
Supreme Court strikes down Louisiana law that severely restricted abortions
Posted at 6:06 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 20:06:18-04

HELENA — The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Monday to consider the constitutionality of Mississippi’s late-term abortion ban is not good news for access to abortion, the leader of Planned Parenthood-Montana told MTN News.

But while a similar ban became law in Montana just three weeks ago, a Supreme Court decision ultimately upholding Mississippi’s ban doesn’t necessarily mean the same for the Montana law, said Martha Stahl, president and CEO of the group.

Montana’s state constitution has a stronger right to privacy than the federal Constitution and other states, and would likely help set the standard for what abortion restrictions are constitutional in Montana, she said.

“Once the Supreme Court says we’re upholding what this one state did, it then goes back to the rest of the states to either do something proactively or not,” Stahl said.

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Martha Stahl, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood-Montana.

The Mississippi law bans most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; Montana’s new law bans most abortions after 20 weeks.

The U.S. Supreme Court said Monday it will review the Mississippi law. Abortion opponents hope Monday’s decision means the court, now dominated by conservatives, will use the case to diminish the rights established in the landmark 1973 decision Roe v. Wade.

A leading abortion opponent in Montana told MTN News that the Mississippi law, like Montana’s, is a “common-sense piece of legislation” that protects both the life of unborn children and the mother, because late-term abortions are more risky.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that states are free to regulate late-term abortions,” said Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation. “Every human life is valuable and these laws protect unborn children and their mothers from the harms of late-term abortion.”

Stahl, however, said many state laws banning late-term abortions have been on hold while they work their way through the federal court system.

The Supreme Court’s acceptance of the Mississippi case indicates a majority of the court may want to decide the issue, and abortion-rights advocates aren’t optimistic about how the court may rule, she said.

Yet the final outcome of the case is likely to send the decision back to individual states, Stahl added.

States that have no constitutional protection around the right to abortion would adopt whatever standard the U.S. Supreme Court determines, but states with stronger privacy protections – like Montana – could carve out their own standard, she said.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion-rights groups already are strategizing on how they may challenge Montana’s new laws restricting abortion, but would do it in state court.