GREAT FALLS — Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade on Friday, some people cheered the ruling, while others staged rallies to demonstrate their opposition to the news.
Hours after the ruling, a group of people demonstrated outside of the Missouri River federal courthouse in Great Falls.
On Sunday, another protest was held at the same location, with scores of people lining the sidewalks and both sides of the adjacent Central Avenue bridge, holding up signs and cheering "honks" from passing drivers.
For now, access to abortion will not change in Montana. In 1999, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in Armstrong v. State that the state constitution’s guaranteed right to privacy allowed women to have an abortion before fetal viability.
All of Montana’s neighboring states – Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – have “trigger laws” in place that will automatically ban most or all abortions after the federal ruling is finalized. That could mean greater demand for abortion services in Montana.
For those opposed to abortion in Montana, the federal ruling was welcome, but they acknowledged it’s not likely to bring immediate changes here.
“Our work is just beginning,” said Montana Family Foundation president Jeff Laszloffy in a statement.
Sharon Nason, chair of Pro-Life Helena, said she actually believed the ruling would have negative impacts in the short-term, as more people would seek to come to Montana to obtain abortions. She said advocates will now seek to make the procedure “unthinkable.”
Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen and Republican leaders in the Legislature have also called for reversing Armstrong.
“The court at that time ruled a woman’s ability to pursue an abortion is a right to privacy, which honestly is not contained within the Montana Constitution,” said House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings.
In a statement Friday morning, Gov. Greg Gianforte said he was “in discussions with legislative leaders on next steps as we work to protect life in Montana.” MTN asked Vinton if Republican lawmakers had talked about calling a special session to propose more abortion restrictions.
“While we’re certainly discussing all available options, as we saw in the 2021 session – when we were able to pass and the governor signed a number of pro-life bills – what happened after that is that liberals then went straight to the courts, and the courts have blocked that good pro-life legislation from taking effect,” Vinton said. “We need to get folks in Montana, to have our citizens’ eyes on the Montana courts, so that they rule in a manner that is consistent with our constitution and with the will of the people.”
House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said she doesn’t believe most people in the state want to see the right of privacy reinterpreted.
“We know the majority of Montanans believe in the explicit right to privacy,” she said. “They support it in our state constitution; the Democratic caucus certainly supports it. Any attempt to eliminate or roll back the right to privacy, I think, would be met with some strong resistance from Montana voters.”
The case where Knudsen called for Armstrong to be overturned is currently before the Montana Supreme Court. Planned Parenthood v. State was assigned to a five-justice panel on May 11.
Clerk of the Supreme Court Bowen Greenwood said there’s no specific timeline for when the court could act on the case, but they generally rule within 180 days of assigning a case to a panel.