Editor’s note: This is the second of a continuing series on major issues coming before the 2011 Legislature, which convenes in Helena Jan. 3.
With Republicans controlling both chambers in the 2011 Legislature, some GOP lawmakers are proposing a broad collection of bills to restrict or possibly ban legalized abortion in Montana.
One Republican legislator is proposing a state constitutional amendment that says human life begins when an egg is fertilized, a move that ultimately could lead to a ban on abortion in Montana. A similar effort failed in the 2009 Legislature and backers were unable to collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot this year as an initiative.
Other draft proposals in the works are reprisals of bills that failed to pass in previous sessions.
Their odds of passage may be better in 2011, as Republicans, who traditionally oppose abortion, will have a 68-32 majority over Democrats in the House and a 28-22 edge in the Senate.
The state Republican Party platform says, “We affirm our belief in traditional family values and support the preservation of innocent human life at every stage of life, beginning with conception.”
Gregg Trude, executive director of Montana Right to Life, is hopeful that some bills restricting abortion will pass this session.
“Every Republican in the House is pro-life.” Trude said. “Every Republican in the Senate is pro-life.”
Abortion-rights supporters are bracing for a difficult fight.
“First, some of us wept, at least I did, after the election,” said Rep. Teresa Henry, D-Missoula, speaking for NARAL Pro-Choice Montana.
“We are not going to have any strong ability to advance a (pregnancy) prevention agenda, so we’re going to be doing the best we can to prevent (the) personhood (amendment), keep or increase contraception (funding), and not support parental notification.”
Stacey J. Anderson, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Montana, said she hopes the state Senate might preserve state family planning services, to prevent unlimited pregnancies.
But Anderson said she also anticipates a difficult legislative session, not unlike the 2009 Legislature, where Republicans controlled the Senate and the House was split 50-50 among Democrats and Republicans.
She said lawmakers have a responsibility to their constituents not to pass legislation that is unconstitutional.
“If they pass all the stuff that was declared unconstitutional in the 1990s, it will cost taxpayers money, eat up court time and eat up legislators’ time,” Anderson said.
So far, Republican lawmakers have asked for these bills to be drafted:
-- Rep. Keith Regier, Kalispell, to criminalize the death of an unborn child;
-- Sen. Jim Shockley, Victor, to require girls under 16 to get parental permission to have an abortion.
-- Rep. Wendy Warburton, Havre, to amend the constitution to define a person by declaring that human life begins when an egg is fertilized;
-- Rep.-elect Alan Hale, Basin, to revise health laws regarding abortion;
-- Rep. Cary Smith, Billings, to regulate family planning and abortion clinics;
-- Rep. Pat Ingraham, Thompson Falls, to require women to have an ultrasound before an abortion;
-- Sen. Jeff Essmann, Billings, to create the crime of obstructing a protest at a health care facility;
-- Rep. Mike More, Gallatin Gateway, to provide abortion screening to prevent provider negligence and patient coercion.
If Warburton’s proposed constitutional amendment gets at least 100 combined votes from senators and representatives, it will go directly to the November 2012 ballot, to be decided by Montana voters.
Other bills that gain approval from the Legislature must be signed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer to become law. Abortion-rights supporters are counting on Schweitzer to veto anti-abortion bills that pass.
“There’s never been anti-choice legislation to reach his desk,” Anderson said. “We would hope he would support the women of Montana. He’s pro-choice.”
Schweitzer’s spokeswoman, Sarah Elliott, said the governor “believes that health care is private and government shouldn’t come between patients and their doctors.”
The personhood amendment would give the state “some legs to stand on constitutionally” to uphold abortion restrictions, Warburton said. Courts now throw out laws passed by abortion opponents, citing state constitutional provisions involving privacy rights and giving minors the same privileges as adults, she said.
Shockley said his bill to require girls under age 16 to get parental permission before obtaining an abortion also would allow them to ask a judge to “bypass” that permission, if circumstances warrant.
“A 15-year-old can’t get her tonsils out without her mother’s permission,” Shockley said.
Ingraham’s bill would require abortion providers to take an ultrasound showing the fetus and show it to the women seeking abortion, Trude said.
Henry said if the question is one of information for women, “then let’s teach them normal biology and growth and development in school. Some of the opposition is the people who don’t want the names of body parts said in class.”