Some were in shock or denial. Others were angry.
Over 200 people gathered on the steps of the Gallatin County Courthouse Friday evening to protest the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The protest was a collaborative effort of a variety of nonprofits in Bozeman.
Next to the steps was a table for the Susan Wicklund Fund, a nonprofit that provides abortion care to people who can’t afford it. Kate Kujawa, the nonprofit’s board chair, said she felt numb Friday morning.
“The main thing I’m concerned with is politicians taking away our right to medical privacy,” Kujawa said.
The decision made Friday effectively removes the federal constitutional protection that Roe v. Wade cemented in 1972, and puts the decision on the ability to get an abortion into the hands of the states.
Since 1999, access to abortions has been a constitutional right in Montana. The Montana Supreme Court ruled in Armstrong v. State that access to abortions was protected under the right to privacy in the Montana Constitution.
Because of that decision, abortion access in the state won’t be affected by the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Friday.
Actions could be taken to ban abortions or challenge Armstrong, whether through a special session of the Montana Legislature, bills in next year’s legislative session or through changes to the Montana Constitution.
A special session could be called by the governor, according to state law. Whether Gov. Greg Gianforte intends to call a special session on abortion access is unclear. In a statement Friday, Gianforte hailed the decision, calling it a “historic win for life, families and science.”
Gianforte said in the statement that he was having discussions with legislative leaders on next steps “to protect life in Montana.” Brooke Stroyke, the governor’s spokesperson, reiterated that line when asked whether the governor intended to call a special session.
Another route to calling a special session is through majority approval by the Legislature. A group of 10 legislators can also request a poll be sent out by the Montana secretary of state to determine if a majority of their peers would be in favor of holding a special session. A group of legislators tried to call a special session earlier this year over election integrity issues and the state’s Public Service Commission districts. The effort failed.
Montana Senate President Sen. Mark Blasdell, R-Kalispell, and House Majority Leader Sue Vinton, R-Billings, lauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a statement Friday. The pair noted that “all eyes in Montana” should be on the state’s judicial branch, and called for the Armstrong decision to be overturned.
Overturning the Armstrong decision would be the ultimate goal of getting an abortion ban bill from a possible special session to the Montana Supreme Court.
Three abortion bills passed by Legislature in 2021 wound up in front of Montana Supreme Court. Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen filed an appeal in January requesting that the injunction on those laws be lifted, and to overturn Armstrong in the process.
In a statement Friday, Knudsen said that the Montana Supreme Court should return the issue of abortion to the people, just as the U.S. Supreme Court had done in its Roe decision.
State Democratic leadership said in a statement Friday that Montana’s constitutional right to privacy is the only thing standing between “Montanans and the politicians who want to control the most intimate aspects of our private decision making.”
Montana House Minority Leader Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said in an interview with the Chronicle that the only avenue Republicans in the state have is to try and “eliminate or dramatically change” the right to privacy in the Montana Constitution.
A change to the constitution could come in two forms, either through a legislative referendum or by a ballot initiative, according to state law.
For a legislative referendum, any legislator can submit an amendment to be voted on by the state House or Senate. If passed by a two-thirds majority, that referendum goes to voters.
The most recent attempt at a constitutional legislative referendum related to abortion was made by Rep. Caleb Hinkle, R-Belgrade, with House Bill 337. That bill failed, but would have redefined “person” in Article II to “include all members of mankind at any stage of human development.”
Getting an initiative on the ballot requires signatures from at least 10% of all qualified voters in the state. That proposed amendment would then be sent to the Montana secretary of state and could be placed on the ballot.
The Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation were in favor of the decision. Republicans Rep. Matt Rosendale and Sen. Steve Daines heralded the overturning of Roe in a pair of statements Friday.
Rosendale called the decision a “historic victory,” but that the fight was not over to stop “radical abortion measures” from appearing in different states.
Daines said the decision “gives bright new hope to unborn children and their moms across America.”
Democratic Sen. Jon Tester disagreed. He said in a statement Friday that “no judge or politician should be telling women how to live their lives, or undermining their fundamental right to privacy.”
Montana State Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, said that she has been involved in abortion access her entire life. She began work with a service that provided resources and information for women on where to get legal abortions in 1968, prior to the Roe decision.
“I’m enraged at one level, but deeply horrified that in the U.S. at this point women are no longer equal and full citizens under the law,” Sands said. “There are no parallels for men at all, this is mandatory pregnancy for women.”