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A Helena judge heard oral arguments Thursday afternoon for a challenge to a Montana law prohibiting advanced practice registered nurses from providing abortions. 

Brought forward by the Center for Reproductive Rights and the Montana ACLU, the lawsuit asks Helena's district court to block the law and argues that ARPNs have a proven ability to provide abortions as safely as physicians and physicians assistants.

The organizations, which are representing Whitefish ARPN Helen Weems and an unnamed ARPN, are seeking a preliminary injunction to allow ARPNs to provide abortion services while the case is being decided.

The clinic where Weems works is one of five in the state of Montana that provide abortion services, and the only clinic that does so in the Flathead Valley. 

The arguments against the law focused on “irreparable harm,” a legal concept that says the potential harm threatened can never be corrected. Hillary Schneller, a CRR attorney from New York who was acting as a pro-hoc counsel in the case, argued that the law forces women to travel long distances for abortions, which can cause irreparable harm because of the time-sensitive nature of the procedure.

The right to privacy enshrined in the Montana constitution and the ability to have a health care provider of your own choosing were also part of Schneller’s oral arguments.

Deputy attorney general Rob Cameron argued for the state. He said the burden of proof for irreparable harm was higher than what Schneller and the ACLU were putting forward, and that the ability to choose a health care provider did not mean that a person could choose anyone to do a specific medical task.

“You don’t want to go to a chiropractor for brain surgery,” Cameron said.

Judge Mike Menahan presided over the hearing and asked multiple questions during oral arguments. Menahan told the court that district court judges in his position had been “reluctant” to issue injunctions, and he was uncertain if it was too early in the court proceedings to issue the order.

Moving for an injunction is not unusual when dealing with irreparable harm, according to Montana ACLU legal director Alex Rate.

“Within the context of abortion care it’s not atypical," Rate said.

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