Lawmakers Thursday endorsed a Republican-backed abortion bill that requires parental notification for girls under 16 and debated a constitutional referendum to specify that the Montana constitution gives no right to an abortion.
Both bills are representative of a larger Republican slate of measures that range from making it slightly more difficult to get an abortion, to movement toward an abortion ban.
Supporters of the legislation say there needs to be more parental involvement and government regulation before abortion decisions are made. Those in opposition say there is a right to privacy for women seeking an abortion and they should be able to make a choice without government intrusion.
Senate Bill 97 would require doctors to give 48 hours’ notice to parents of girls 15 and younger seeking an abortion. The proposal would allow girls to get a court’s permission for the procedure if they cannot notify their parents, such as in the case of an abusive relationship.
Doctors in violation of the measure would face up to six months in jail and up to a $1,000 fine.
The measure drew emotional debate on the Senate floor before the bill was endorsed in a 29-21 vote.
Sen. Jim Shockley, the Victor Republican carrying the bill, said the advice of adults on a serious issue is important and would help girls feel good about their decision in the future.
Bill opponents, mostly Democrats, said the measure is a complicated roadblock for girls who need the procedure and goes too far in violating privacy rights.
“How can you be anonymous about this very personal information in a small town in Montana?” Democratic Sen. Christine Kaufmann of Helena asked.
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The bill faces one normally procedural vote before heading to the House.
Rep. Wendy Warburton made a case to the House Judiciary Committee that the public should vote on an amendment that says there is no Montana Constitution right to an abortion and prohibits public funding of abortion.
The Havre Republican said House Bill 574 would let taxpayers decide what their money should be put toward. Supporters of the bill said the change to the constitution would not make abortions illegal but would make the wording neutral and prevent overreaching court rulings.
Niki Zupanic from the American Civil Liberties Union spoke in opposition to the bill, saying it goes far in intruding on women’s lives.
“This body does not need to endorse a measure that would erode the privacy rights of Montana women,” Zupanic said.
Opponents also said the bill could violate rules that only allow amending the constitution in a single place per vote.
The abortion bills have had mixed levels of success so far despite a Republican majority in both chambers. Another bill carried by Warburton to amend the Montana Constitution to define a person as a human life in any stage of development passed out of committee Tuesday.
Last week, a bill to discourage women from having an abortion by requiring an ultrasound before the procedure failed on the House floor.