Judge Replaced in Case Challenging New Montana Abortion Laws

The state's move to disqualify the judge from the case was an “outrageous delay tactic," said Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana

By Associated Press
The Montana State Capitol building in Helena. Beacon file photo

HELENA – A judge has recused himself from a case challenging four new laws restricting access to abortion in Montana, a day before he was set to rule on whether to grant an injunction that would delay their implementation.

The state had asked for the recusal in a court filing Wednesday, arguing that during a hearing on the abortion cases, District Court Judge Gregory Todd expressed personal bias and prejudice against the state regarding a separate case. That case relates to a new law changing the way judicial vacancies are filled.

Todd recused himself Thursday afternoon and was replaced with Judge Michael Moses.

Planned Parenthood of Montana filed the lawsuit in August seeking to block four laws, including three that are set to go into effect on Oct. 1. The laws would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, restrict access to abortion pills and require abortion providers to ask patients if they would like to view an ultrasound.

The state’s move to disqualify Todd from the case was an “outrageous delay tactic,” said Martha Stahl, president of Planned Parenthood of Montana.

Todd previously said he would issue a ruling on whether to grant a preliminary injunction on or before Thursday. If granted, such an injunction would have stopped the laws from going into effect as scheduled while the legal challenge was underway. It remains unknown of Moses will consider the injunction Thursday before the law goes into effect.

Planned Parenthood has argued the laws violate Montana’s constitutional right to privacy, which they say protects access to abortion before the fetus is viable, generally at 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The suit names Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, a Republican, as a defendant. The state is represented in the case by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group.

A spokesperson for Knudsen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

The state has argued the laws should be allowed to go into effect, and that they will “help minimize the medical risks” during pregnancy. But medical experts and abortion advocates broadly dispute that the new laws would make the procedure safer.

The laws were passed earlier this year by the Republican-dominated Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Gianforte, who last November became Montana’s first Republican governor in 16 years. His Democratic predecessors blocked previous attempts to limit abortion access.

Montana joins several other GOP-led states in passing additional restrictions on abortion access this year.

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