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With state Sen. Theresa Manzella leading the charge, the lawmakers urged citizens to ‘put the pressure on’ legislators and candidates to investigate Montana’s 2020 election.

Former Republican Michigan state Sen. Pat Colbeck discusses his allegations of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 election with Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay, during a meeting of the "ad hoc election integrity committee" in Helena Tuesday. Credit: Alex Sakariassen / MTFP

On Tuesday, a group of Republican state lawmakers identifying themselves as an “ad hoc election integrity committee” convened at a hotel in downtown Helena to hear presentations and public comment questioning the security of Montana’s elections. One of those lawmakers, Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Stevensville, told Montana Free Press that the meeting, which was not a legislatively sponsored event, was designed to collect public comment on an issue legislative leadership and other elected officials have declined to address. 

“This enabled our citizens to talk to us and share their election experiences with us,” Manzella said. “It gave us an opportunity to get it on film and archived that can be shared again and again and again. It gets our message out to those who want to hear it and view it.”

The meeting, which was attended by several dozen people throughout the day and largely moderated by Manzella, revolved around allegations and information already widely circulated in the state by critics of the 2020 election and repeatedly refuted as baseless by scores of elected officials and political scientists across the country. Multiple presenters and public commenters frequently called for a full investigation of Montana’s 2020 election results, an audit of the state’s election processes, and a move to exclusively non-electronic, in-person voting statewide. 

Manzella emphasized the importance of lobbying state lawmakers and legislative candidates to take action on the issue.

“You must engage with your legislators and your legislative candidates,” Manzella said. “You have to put the pressure on.”

A poster advertising the election integrity hearing.

Manzella told MTFP that the event space and audio-video costs were paid for by the America Project, a Florida-based nonprofit that describes its mission as “building a support network of and for pro-freedom organizations, businesses, and individuals to empower and embolden them to stand up for America.”

The other lawmakers at the table were Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay, Rep. Steve Galloway, R-Great Falls, and Rep. Jerry Schillinger, R-Circle, all of whom attended a “cyber symposium” in South Dakota last fall hosted by 2020 election critic Mike Lindell. A flyer advertising the event also listed Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, and Rep. Gordon Vance, R-Belgrade, as committee members. Fielder and Vance did not attend, but Tschida was present via Zoom. He previously spearheaded a citizen count of voter affirmation envelopes in Missoula County that continues to fuel allegations of a discrepancy in the county’s 2020 election results.

“I say that because the person heading this recount has said at many meetings that there is no voter fraud in Montana,” Hellegaard said, referencing Missoula Republican Party Chair Vondene Kopetski. “She asked us to stop our work because she thought that it was discouraging people from voting.”

Kopetski told Montana Free Press this week that her recount is intended to respond to diminishing faith among voters that their votes count and put the allegations made by Hellegaard, Tschida and others “to bed” one way or another. 

“You must engage with your legislators and your legislative candidates. You have to put the pressure on.”


Among the day’s presenters was Patrick Colbeck, a former Republican Michigan state senator who has appeared nationwide perpetuating unsubstantiated claims of mass fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Colbeck now works as a policy adviser for the Election Integrity Fund, a nonprofit that recruited volunteers to go door to door in Michigan last year in an attempt to uncover evidence of voter fraud. Standing in front of a large poster titled “The 2020 Coup,” he painted a picture of an orchestrated and layered attack on the national election process executed in part through the use of rigged voting machines, and screened a trailer for a film he said he’s making to document his allegations.

“Before you can win in the courts, you have to win in the court of public opinion, which means we’re in an information war,” Colbeck said. “We have to get this out in the public forum.”

Last year, the Colorado-based election technology firm Dominion Voting Systems sent a letter to Colbeck demanding he retract false statements about the company stealing the 2020 election from former President Donald Trump. The letter accused Colbeck of “knowingly sowing discord in our democracy” while soliciting money for his public appearances. Prior to his presentation in Helena Tuesday, Colbeck was asked by Manzella to say if he was being paid to attend. He said he was not.

Colbeck encouraged Montanans to not “outsource election integrity” to the federal government or private vendors, and argued in favor of manual elections over elections reliant on electronic equipment. 

“If all else fails, vote Amish,” he said, repeating a characterization of paper-only voting that Manzella had introduced earlier in the day.

Another argument repeated throughout the event asserted a need to more thoroughly and regularly update Montana’s database of registered voters. Lawmakers and public commenters claimed anecdotal knowledge of ballots being sent to voters at multiple addresses or to deceased voters, situations they said could open the door to fraudulent voting. A bill requiring counties to update those voter rolls annually was passed last session, with Tschida citing his Missoula County allegations in support of the bill on the House floor. 

Other suggestions offered by presenters included requiring voter thumbprints in addition to signatures on mail-in ballots, establishing a new division within the state Attorney General’s Office dedicated solely to investigating voter fraud, and switching to a new brand of paper ballot with security features such as watermarks and serial codes voters could use to verify the accurate counting of their vote. Phalen also floated the idea of requiring Montanans to re-register to vote prior to every election.

“That doesn’t seem to be a huge task to me,” Phalen said. “We go sign up for a hunting license and a lot of other things on an annual basis.”

Montana Public Service Commissioner Randy Pinocci stepped to the lectern as well to share several anecdotal accounts of voter fraud he claimed occurred when he was working for the campaign of former Republican U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns. Pinocci suggested that fraud accounted for Burns’ loss to Sen. Jon Tester, a Democrat, in 2006.

The committee distributed a pamphlet that originated with the John Birch Society, a national conservative advocacy organization, titled “9 Ways to Restore America’s Elections.” Among the listed recommendations were abolishing same-day voter registration, implementing additional voter ID regulations, and banning the collection and delivery of ballots by third parties. The Montana Legislature last year eliminated Election Day registration, enacted stricter voter identification requirements, and prohibited paid ballot collection in the state.

Rep. Steve Gist, R-Great Falls, Rep. Braxton Mitchell, R-Columbia Falls, and Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, were present in the audience Tuesday. They, along with the ad hoc committee’s members, were among 89 Republican legislators who signed a letter last fall asking legislative leadership to establish a special select committee to probe Montana’s 2020 election. Legislative leaders have taken no action on that request. The creation of a select committee would likely require a special session of the Montana Legislature. 

Manzella said Tuesday that a special session is the only way to implement additional changes to state election laws ahead of the 2022 election, but that lawmaker support for such a session does not appear to be strong. One member of the audience asked whether Gov. Greg Gianforte had the power to call a special legislative session himself.

“I think you should call him and ask him,” Galloway replied.

Gianforte has that authority under state law. Manzella told MTFP she sent a letter to his office this month requesting he call a special session. She said she has not yet received a response.

In closing out the meeting, Rep. Steve Galloway challenged the notion that a special session would be prohibitively costly, noting that the 2021 legislative session ended 10 days early, and that those days are “sitting in the coffers” should the Legislature decide to reconvene. He and other members of the committee urged attendees to contact their legislators and to get involved, with Galloway choking up as he mentioned a grassroots canvassing effort in Cascade County as an example voters across the state should heed.

“Don’t back off,” Galloway said.


A poster advertising the election integrity hearing.

Manzella told MTFP that the event space and audio-video costs were paid for by the America Project, a Florida-based nonprofit that describes its mission as “building a support network of and for pro-freedom organizations, businesses, and individuals to empower and embolden them to stand up for America.”

The other lawmakers at the table were Rep. Bob Phalen, R-Lindsay, Rep. Steve Galloway, R-Great Falls, and Rep. Jerry Schillinger, R-Circle, all of whom attended a “cyber symposium” in South Dakota last fall hosted by 2020 election critic Mike Lindell. A flyer advertising the event also listed Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula, Rep. Paul Fielder, R-Thompson Falls, and Rep. Gordon Vance, R-Belgrade, as committee members. Fielder and Vance did not attend, but Tschida was present via Zoom. He previously spearheaded a citizen count of voter affirmation envelopes in Missoula County that continues to fuel allegations of a discrepancy in the county’s 2020 election results.


‘Lawn Boy’ and ‘Gender Queer’ will stay on the shelves, despite parent, community objections

Jan 26, 2022

 Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe (Photo by Darrell Ehrlick of the Daily Montanan).


The Billings Public School Board, the largest in the state of Montana, decided on Monday night unanimously to keep two controversial titles found in high school libraries, “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe and “Lawn Boy” by Jonathan Evison.

The move came as somewhat of a surprise as a subcommittee of the board had recommended keeping Evison’s book, but removing “Gender Queer.”

However, after nearly two hours of discussion, public comment and a review of the books, school district trustee Jennifer Hoffman changed her recommendation, setting off a series of votes that would ultimately lead to keeping both titles.

Parent Nathan Mathews objected to both books, appealing a district curriculum review committee’s unanimous decision to keep the books in the high school libraries. Originally, a subcommittee of the board recommended keeping “Lawn Boy” but discarding Kobabe’s coming-of-age graphic novel memoir.

During the meeting on Monday, more than 40 people either submitted comments or spoke in person. A tally of speakers showed that those who supported keeping both books outnumbered those who voiced objections by a roughly 2-to-1 ratio.

Both books dealt with coming-of-age and both have been classified as adult literature, but have enjoyed widespread crossover into young adult literature. Criticism of Evison’s book included concerns about profanity and one particular homosexual encounter described in the book.

Kobabe’s graphic memoir sparked the most controversy, largely because of its format as an illustrated or graphic novel. Often compared to a comic book, many objected to the depictions of sexual material in illustrated form versus the written content of the words.

The trustees said that discussions and trust with the school district’s staff, coupled with an in-depth discussion of the school board’s policies, which includes a freedom to read statement, led several to decide that though they found the material presented by Kobabe, including descriptions of oral sex and masturbation, questionable, the totality of the book outweighed the concerns about the individual passages.

“To date, this has been one of the most challenging and rewarding discussions across the district,” said board member Jennifer Hoffman. “Not all of us think this is right, but we have to do what our policy and the law allows us to do. If law or policy changes, then that’s a different topic.”

She told the board she had changed her perspective, and now supported keeping both titles. Hoffman said that while parents may be upset, then the school district’s policies should be reviewed. However, she said the book, in light of the policies on academic, intellectual and First Amendment freedoms, should remain in the collection.

On Monday, night the district reported that “Lawn Boy” had only been checked out twice and “Gender Queer” had been checked out eight times, including once by Mathews.

“The greater harm would have been in banning books, rather than the freedom to read,” said board member Mike Leo. “The selection of books never means an agreement with content.”

Previously in the board meeting, some members of the public accused Leo and board member Scott McCulloch of endorsing child pornography.

Parents, community members and people from around the state participated in the meeting, speaking to the perceived merits and drawbacks of both books.

Supporters of both books framed the arguments in terms of academic freedom to read, support for LGBTQ+ members of the community, and the books’ ability to teach differing viewpoints.

Opponents of the books said that the explicit content of both outweighed the benefits of the books, and many read the legal definition of child pornography, saying the passages dealing with sex or sexual encounters was a matter of endorsing illegal acts.

“No school should display or promote erotic material,” said parent Jennifer Sanchez, who said many of the accounts and words used in “Gender Queer” help normalize the acts of “pedophiles and sex traffickers.”

Parent Kate Freedman said that while she supported materials being available for LGBTQ students, four pages of sexual material in “Gender Queer” made it unacceptable and unfit for high school libraries.

“This is not about LGBTQ censorship,” Freedman said. “There is a real, tangible need to have more materials in the library and this is a fast-moving genre. But this one crosses the line.”

Luke Hudson told school board members that the district has adopted a policy on inappropriate or graphic content, so it should be able to control similar material in print.

Russ Hall, one of the school board members, said that in 5 ½ years of being on the school board, he’s had to rely on experts whether that’s on policies like wearing masks during COVID or educational materials.

“I disagree with content, but I support our libraries and our librarians,” he said. “I support our Constitution, even when it means I disagree with the outcome that I would prefer. These images I don’t like. I don’t like that they’re available, but I saw enough that there are students in the district that are in really tough situations with gender identity. I don’t know what that’s like and many youth in our schools don’t where to turn. There are many in our community who disagree wholeheartedly. Yet, in light of our mental health issues, this book (“Gender Queer”) belongs there.”

Editor’s note: Because of the public nature of online commenting, those submitting comments were not required to give the exact spelling of their names. The Daily Montanan has made every effort to transcribe the names correctly, but asks for readers’ understanding as many names were only read aloud, not spelled out.



Jan 24, 2022

 A display of banned books at a library during Banned Books Week 2016 (Photo by Charles Hackley via Flickr | CC-BY-SA 2.0)


Two library directors, weeks of controversy and hundreds of comments later, Kalispell is no closer to deciding what to do with the book “Gender Queer” by Maia Kobabe.

Last week, Kalispell’s Public Library board decided to indefinitely suspend conversation about “Gender Queer,” one of two books that had been challenged, while leaving Jonathan Evison’s “Lawn Boy” on the shelves.

Those books had become the center of a controversy about materials available at the public library in the conservative community of Kalispell, located in Montana’s Flathead Valley. Both books were part of the adult literature collection and both had been targeted in other library debates throughout the country. Both deal with gender, identity and sexuality, raising hackles with some conservative patrons who considered the content bordering on illegal.

While libraries throughout the state have often had procedures for residents to challenge offensive or controversial materials, those challenges, until recently, have been few and far between. And while the Montana Library Association said the number of challenges being reported throughout the network of libraries hasn’t really changed, national groups and organizations have said that the cultural wars that have been waged in places like Washington, D.C., or New York City are moving across the country and taking place inside local libraries.

Libraries, directors and librarians are finding themselves increasingly on the frontlines of a battle that targets materials and books dealing with sexuality and gender identity.


Imagine If not


Both books by Kobabe and Evison have been challenged elsewhere, but the controversy boiled over in Kalispell in a power struggle that pitted the public library’s directors against the staff. With one library director having already resigned, Martha Furman assumed the interim director position.

Furman gave notice that she, too, would resign on Dec. 10, 2021, after the controversy continued, writing a note to the community.

“I have the responsibility to protect the public’s right to freely access information, that is, free from interference from government, religious or political views,” she said. “The library is obligated to provide a wide range of views, including those that may be considered unorthodox or unpopular.”

Both books were being challenged out of concerns for their subject matter, but both books were in the adult literature section, not in the youth or young adult section.

Libraries throughout the state have their own oversight and rules, said Kirk Vriesman, executive director of the Montana Library Association.

While no other libraries in the state have reported similar problems, Vriesman acknowledged to the Daily Montanan that there’s been an increase in nationwide challenges, with the two titles being some of the most challenged literature currently.

In an article published by the 19th, Nadra Nittle reported that the American Library Association said it had counted 60 percent more challenges in September 2021 than it had recorded in the previous year in September.

In nearby Wyoming, the Campbell County Public Library was embroiled in a controversy when it disinvited a transgender magician to perform there. That was also followed by a pastor who charged that books ranging from substance addiction to witchcraft to sexuality violated the state’s obscenity laws. Ultimately, a special prosecutor decline to file charges, but experts around the country said the case has a particularly pernicious effect on libraries by causing libraries to resist having a collection of diverse materials, and also emboldening those who want to take the cultural wars to the local library.

While a repository of all challenged books and materials doesn’t exist, experts in the industry say that it appears that most of the controversial items deal with sexuality, gender or race like “Gender Queer,” but sometimes extends to something as commonplace as American author Toni Morrison.


Challenges and challenges


Gavin Woltjer, the director of the Billings Public Library, said most libraries have a challenge process for materials that patrons disagree or object to. While the format or procedure may vary, the principle is usually the same – it’s a process to evaluate the content, have a wider discussion and see if the content fits within the library’s collections.

For example, when a patron objects to materials in Billings, Woltjer said the patron fills out a form that describes the objection. From there, Woltjer himself goes and removes the item and takes it to his office. Library staff then complete history and research on the item, including what reviewers had to say about the material; where the item is located in the collection; how many times it’s been circulated, or checked out; and other libraries that have the same item. From there, the item is placed on the agenda for the library board to consider. There are a number of options available, Woltjer said. Those options include reclassification to a different section; it can remain in its original place; or it can be removed. The board’s decision can be appealed to the city administrator, who has the final call. In his experience so far, that has never happened.

Woltjer said that while book challenges have been politicized, he also welcomes the process because it’s a chance to have a conversation about expectations of a public library and to evaluate content.

“It’s never an either or – and it’s never a bad process,” Woltjer said. “You, as the patron, have every right to challenge something, and I’ll help you. “

He said that a public library is different than an academic library you’d find at a university.

“And, as a public library, this isn’t my private collection, either,” Woltjer said. “All of us has a bias. Even if they challenge an object I love, I am not going to say that. It’s very ‘Dragnet’ – just the facts. It’s not emotionless but it’s as emotionless as possible.”

Woltjer said the collection is dynamic – always changing and patrons’ interest change, too. Sometimes items that were controversial age out and are not replaced. Sometimes, an item that has been controversial for years is replaced and continues to be controversial.

“I have an inherent bias, like all people. There is plenty of stuff I think is garbage. Or maybe I am not into it. Philosophically, spiritually, I disagree. But the question is: Does it belong?” Woltjer said. “That’s the goal of the collection: If you walk up and down the aisles, is it a curated library of voices and perspectives about all sorts of things? In order to have the best education possible, you have to get all the voices.”

He said that many people understand public libraries and the librarians, most of whom have a master’s degree in library science, as gatekeepers.

“That’s a misnomer. We’re locksmiths and the role of a locksmith is to open the locks to a gate, but we don’t necessarily walk through them,” Woltjer said. “Our job is to make sure the cultural economy of the community is healthy.”

That means that the library staff has to walk a tricky line between putting objects and items that may challenge views or be controversial, but also curate a collection that matches interests and increases the public library’s usage.

“We may have a vastly different readership with different interests than, say Bozeman,”Woltjer said.


Right book, right age, right audience


Rachael Waller is a professor of early childhood education at Montana State University-Billings and studies literature for children and young adults. She teaches about diversity in literature and how teachers introduce concepts in education. Her specialty is in rural education and research.

She said that there’s been an increase in diversity of characters and that’s generally positive. The diversity comes in a variety of different ways, from different cultures, to color to sexuality. She grew up in rural North Dakota, and said she didn’t often see characters who reflected her experiences. The town’s library was the library at the high school, and the only characters that dealt with growing up in a rural setting were the classic but dated, “Little House on the Prairie.”

“Never as a kid did I encounter LGBTQ people or characters of color,” Waller said. “It was a pretty homogenous library.”

She said more diversity in literature tends to be a good thing for a number of reasons. First, it often helps expose young readers in homogenous communities to diversity that simply isn’t present. But it also helps children and youth identify with characters who are like them, if they’re in a minority group.

Even though there’s controversy surrounding books that deal with gender and sexuality, most parents, Waller said, even in rural or more conservative communities, generally want examples of diversity and their kids exposed to differing views they’re likely to encounter. Waller said most of the parents just want to know about materials their kids are reading and parents who are concerned should be monitoring what kids check out of the public library, as opposed to school libraries, which have a different type of curation or collections.

“Parents want a diverse perspective for their kids in a general way,” Waller said. “Part of the pushback is so political, and there’s a lot of talk about critical race theory, which isn’t addressed in the K-12 curriculum. Most parents are concerned that schools are teaching values contrary to the values of the parents or families.”

That controversy is making both teachers and librarians nervous to teach or have certain topics in the collection.

But Waller said it’s also the responsibility of the parents to read and judge for themselves what materials their children are viewing.

“Parents ultimately have control at least through middle school,” Waller said.

However, after that the emotional and intellectual maturity starts to vary from student to student.

“A very mature 12-year-old can handle something that a less mature teenager may not. It’s very personal, and developmentally, parents have to realize that kids are different, and it can be tricky,” Waller said.

Often, tools used by educators and librarians can help, like the lexile difficulty level of each reader.  Lexile scores are numbers that correspond with a reader’s ability. Knowing your child’s lexile level can help identify reading-level literature.

Waller said there are also more sites and information about young adult and youth literature to help parents. For example, if parents are looking for information about how to expose their children to subjects like Native American culture, looking for authors who have received awards and who are Native themselves is helpful.

In other cases, finding subject matter that is age appropriate is also essential. For example, one of the most popular books, “Heather has Two Mommies,” is a book that is often used in early elementary education and deals with the different types of family structures, like a traditional family, a blended family, a single-parent family or a same-sex couple. Waller said that without being graphic, the book does a good job of explaining different family structures, something kids often encounter as soon as they enroll in schools.

Ultimately, Waller said the discussion about these topics can be helpful – for example, a recent controversy surrounding Dr. Seuss can lead to larger discussion about what books perpetuate stereotypes and can also lead to a discussion of what material is appropriate at various age levels.

“It can be helpful if we allow ourselves to get there,” Waller said. “But often people are so angry that they just jump to conclusions.”

Waller said that one of the things that is less discussed is that the power of words, ideas and books can be a deeply personal issue.

“What you read is an extension of you and your thinking,” Waller said. “Adults need to scaffold what they’re reading. In education, we use the metaphors of windows, mirrors and sliding doors to talk about literature.

“If you’re a part of the cultural minority, having those books can help you understand and see yourself, but it also lets me as a White person have and build empathy. Shouting at each other is not an effective way to build curriculum.”

She said that while just banning books or idea may not be helpful, Waller said there’s an equal danger by just accepting as gospel, so to speak, all ideas in a controversial book.

“Yes, you should walk away from a challenging piece of literature with a new understanding of yourself and others or of a situation,” Waller said. “It’s fine to question the author and not take the author at their word. The goal is always to have a conversation but to leave with the feeling that you may have a perspective that may not be the same. Just because something is in the library doesn’t mean everyone has to read it.”


Planned Parenthood calls Attorney General’s appeal a ‘political stunt’

Jan 21, 2022

 The entrance to the Montana Supreme Court (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).


The Montana Attorney General is asking the Montana Supreme Court to overturn the 1999 court decision that underpins the state constitution’s abortion protections amid a legal battle over a series of abortion restriction bills passed this year.

The office of Attorney General Austin Knudsen made this argument Wednesday as part of the State’s appeal of a Yellowstone County District Court decision that temporarily blocked implementation of three abortion bills pending a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood of Montana. The state filed its notice of appeal in October, and after two extension requests, filed its first brief on Wednesday.

The bills under injunction are House Bills 136, 140 and 171, which, respectively, ban abortion after 20 weeks gestation, require doctors to offer ultrasounds to patients seeking an abortion and ban the prescribing medication for abortions by mail, while also making it more challenging to get the medication prescribed in person. Planned Parenthood also challenged the constitutionality of HB229, which would ban federal exchanged health insurance plans from covering abortions in the state, but the law was not part of the preliminary injunction.

“All three laws unquestionably enhance the health and safety of Montana women. And they represent basic regulations of the practice of medicine—bread-and-butter exercises of (state government),” the state’s appeal reads.

At the crux of Planned Parenthood’s argument was the unanimous 1999 Armstrong v. State decision, which tied access to an abortion in Montana to the state constitution’s robust privacy protections. The ruling stands to protect at least some access to abortion for Montanans even if Roe v. Wade, the decision that federally protects abortion access, is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to issue a ruling soon on a case out of Mississippi that could weaken the high court’s 1973 decision.

In its filing, the state argues that the responsibility to regulate access to abortion falls in the hands of the Legislature, and the 1999 state Supreme Court was flawed when it extended Montana’s privacy protections to abortion access. On Thursday, the Supreme Court rejected the state’s brief citing formatting issues and asked for it to be resubmitted.

“Armstrong’s reasoning is a deeply flawed tribute to unrestrained judicial activism. Nowhere in Montana’s constitutional text is there a right to elective abortion,” the filing reads. “Instead, the framers intentionally excluded abortion from the Constitution and left to the Legislature the prerogative to permit, prohibit, or regulate it.”

In an emailed statement, Planned Parenthood of Montana’s president and CEO Martha Fuller called the AGs request to overturn the landmark ruling a “meritless political stunt.”

“We hope the Montana Supreme Court sees this stunt for what it is and affirms the state constitution which clearly protects the right to privacy and access to safe abortion services in Montana,” Stahl said.


As Republicans, bolstered by a same-party governor for the first time in 16 years, introduced a slate of bills restricting access to abortion during the last legislative session, pro-abortion rights advocates continually cited the Armstrong decision as to why the bills would ultimately be ruled unconstitutional. The newly passed bills have had past success in the state Legislature but were continually vetoed by consecutive Democratic governors.

The State argued the right to “personal autonomy” protected by Article II, Section 10 of the state constitution aimed to protect Montanans from things like illegal government surveillance and was not meant to be extended to abortion.

“Yes, the right to privacy is explicit in the Montana Constitution — unlike its federal counterpart — but the right to an abortion appears in neither,” the State argues. “Instead, the right is entirely judge-made, arising from the sociological convictions of seven justices.”

Retired Justice James Nelson, who authored the unanimous Armstrong decision, wrote Article II, Section 10, “protects a woman’s right of procreative autonomy” and “the right to seek and to obtain a specific lawful medical procedure, a pre-viability abortion, from a health care provider of her choice.”

But the State argued in its filing that the right to “personal autonomy” protected by Article II should not extend to abortion.

“Justice Nelson reasoned that ‘procreative autonomy’ —a term used for the first time in his opinion—is a form of ‘personal autonomy,'” the filing says. “In just a few sentences, therefore, Armstrong remarkably located a right to pre-viability abortion in a constitutional provision meant to prevent government snooping.”

Ultimately, the state argues, Armstrong was a “breathtaking exercise in judicial activism,” is “manifestly wrong” and has created quandaries related to the State’s exercise of traditional police powers.

“It (Armstrong) is unworkable, and Montana women don’t need it. It should infect Montana’s jurisprudence no longer. The Court should overrule Armstrong,” the filing reads.

In August, Planned Parenthood sued the state over the four bills, all of which impose various new conditions around abortion access, arguing they violate the heightened right to privacy established in the state constitution. After a flurry of last-minute filings a judge change and a temporary restraining order, Yellowstone County District Court Judge Michael Moses ultimately sided with the plaintiffs saying three of the bills appear unconstitutional under the State’s right to privacy and would cause irreparable harm to Planned Parenthood and its clients if they went into effect as planned on October 1, 2021.

“(Planned Parenthood of Montana) and their patients will be irreparably harmed through the loss of their constitutional rights, thus the preservation of the status quo is necessary to prevent that harm,” Judge Moses wrote in his October order blocking the laws from going into effect.

But on Wednesday, the state argued Moses erred in issuing the preliminary injunction by applying incorrect standards and asked for the decision to be vacated.

“The court below bungled the preliminary injunction standard, wrongly subjected each of the new laws to strict scrutiny, and plainly ignored the State’s evidence, arguments, and interests,” the filing says.”Each error independently justifies reversal; this court should therefore do its duty, lift the injunction, and allow these commonsense, democratically enacted laws to take effect.”



Red Cross: ‘This is the direst situation we have seen’

January 20, 2022

 Dr. Nicole Finke, a pathologist at Community Medical Center, said the hospital had Tuesday only about half of the blood supply it would typically stock. (Provided by Missoula Community Medical Center.)


Montana is only collecting 75% of blood necessary to meet hospital demand as blood supply shortages beleaguer the state and country.

“It’s the worst shortage we have seen in about 10 years,” said Matt Ochsner, communications director for the American Red Cross of Montana and Idaho. “And demand is staying fairly steady … every 2 seconds in the United States, someone needs a life-saving blood transfusion, and a single blood donation takes less than one hour and can save up to three lives.”

Community Medical Center in Missoula had only around half of the amount of blood it usually stocks on Tuesday, said Dr. Nicole Finke, a pathologist at the hospital.

“Empty shelves are annoying when you go to the grocery store, but it’s terrifying when you go to the blood storage,” she said.

The combination of lack of donors and ability to staff blood banks has been amplified by the current COVID-19 surge fueled by the highly transmissible omicron variant, Ochsner said: “We’ve faced some shortages and challenges throughout COVID-19, but this is the direst situation we have seen.”

While the American Red Cross, which supplies 40% of the nation’s blood supply, typically sees a drop in blood donations around this time of year due to winter weather making it harder to hold blood drives and cold and flu seasons, this shortage is exacerbated by COVID-19, Ochsner said. To increase donations, he said anyone who donates blood through the Red Cross in January is automatically entered into a raffle to win two tickets to this year’s NFL Super Bowl.

And more staff is needed, Ochsner said.

“As so many businesses and organizations are seeing right now, we are also facing staffing shortages from COVID-19, which is affecting our ability to hold blood drives and collect life-saving blood,” Ochsner said. “We are actively recruiting phlebotomists and using incentives like increased pay and sign-on bonuses to encourage people to come join our team, and we will pay for all the training it would require.”

What the Red Cross says is causing the shortage:

  • 10% overall blood donation decline since March 2020.
  • 62% drop in college and high school blood drives due to the pandemic. Student donors accounted for ~25% of donors in 2019 and accounted for just ~10% during the pandemic.
  • Ongoing blood drive cancellations due to illness, weather-related closures and staffing limitations.
  • Additional factors like a surge of COVID-19 cases and an active flu season may compound the already bad situation.

Finke said Community used to get blood from the Red Cross every day, but because of the shortage, it only receives shipments twice a week. And the lack of blood means hospitals have to reevaluate triage plans and make difficult decisions when using blood.

“We try to keep a five-day supply of the different blood types, and right now, some of the key blood types are down to a one-day supply,” Ochsner said. “There are definitely hospitals around the country that have had to postpone surgeries due to lack of blood supply … it hasn’t happened in Montana to my knowledge, but the conversations have started that those situations may arise in the coming weeks.”

The shortage is even more acute among platelets, which are needed to stop bleeding and have a shorter shelf life than red blood cells.

“On Jan. 7, there was one unit of platelets available in all of Missoula, which would not have been enough if there was a serious car accident,” Finke said.

Rich Rasmussen, CEO of the Montana Hospital Association, said this is another example of how COVID-19 has ravaged the healthcare industry.

“Normally, during blood shortages, the call would go out for blood donations, and people would respond, but this is different because those who collect and process the blood are isolating,” he said.

Anecdotally, Rasmussen said he has heard the shortage might take months to level off: “If that is the case, it has the potential to disrupt services in our state and across the country.”

But unlike other problems caused by COVID-19, Finke said there is a solution to this shortage.

“Unlike shortages at the grocery store, this supply shortage, as a community, we can significantly change by donating blood,” Finke said.