HELENA — On Wednesday, Gov. Greg Gianforte highlighted a package of legislation that will put additional restrictions on abortion access and on taxpayer money being used for abortions.
“Today, we’re protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us: unborn children,” he said.
Gianforte held a signing ceremony in front of the Montana State Capitol, with Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists in attendance. He signed five bills into law, and announced he will sign another five that have not yet reached his desk.
The legislation came out of what Montana Family Foundation President Jeff Laszloffy described Wednesday as “the most pro-life legislative session in the history of the state of Montana.”
Gianforte said one of the most important bills was Senate Bill 154, sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell. The bill would challenge the state Supreme Court ruling that established a right to abortion in Montana, by stating that abortion is not protected under the Montana Constitution’s right to privacy. In 1999, the court ruled that constitutional provision does give women the right to an abortion before fetal viability, in the case Armstrong v. State.
“Last session, we passed common sense pro-life bills, and some have been tied up in the courts,” Gianforte said. “But our commitment to do what's right for unborn babies, however, will never waver, and we have proven our commitment in defending life again this session.”
Gianforte also signed House Bill 625, sponsored by Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, which would require medical providers to give lifesaving care to infants born alive after an abortion. It’s similar to LR-131, a ballot measure that was voted down last year by Montana voters, though supporters added some amendments intended to address concerns about the impact on families whose infants have no chance to survive long-term.
The other bills he signed were:
· House Bill 575, sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, which would ban abortion when a fetus is determined to be viable, except to save the mother’s life. Viability would be presumed at 24 weeks into pregnancy.
· House Bill 876, sponsored by Sheldon-Galloway, which would require the state to track complications linked to medication abortion.
· House Bill 303, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, which would allow medical providers not to participate in procedures they object to on religious, ethical or moral grounds.
Gianforte also announced his support for five other bills that he described as “pro-life, pro-child and pro-family”:
· House Bill 225, sponsored by Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, would create a tax credit of $5,000 for families who adopt a child, and $7,500 if the child was in the foster care system.
· House Bill 544, sponsored by Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman, would require prior authorization before Medicaid pays for abortion services. It essentially puts into state law a policy that the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services adopted in a recent rule.
· House Bill 721, sponsored by House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, would prohibit a specific abortion procedure that it calls “dismemberment abortions,” except in case of a medical emergency that occurs prior to fetal viability. The procedure, formally called “dilation and evacuation,” is a form of surgical abortion in which a fetus is removed using forceps or similar tools, and is a typical form of abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy – after 12 weeks.
· House Bill 862, sponsored by Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, would block using state funding for abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the woman’s life is in danger. It would bring Montana’s laws in line with the longstanding federal policy called the Hyde Amendment.
· House Bill 937, sponsored by Sheldon-Galloway, would require abortion clinics in Montana to be licensed by the state.
It’s likely many of the abortion-related bills passed this session will face challenges in the courts.