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'Personhood' amendment gets support in Montana House
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'Personhood' amendment gets support in Montana House

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The Montana House voted along party lines, with Republican support and Democratic opposition, on a bill to put a "personhood" state constitutional amendment to voters in the next election.

The legislation would define the start of life at conception and outlaw all abortions. As written, the bill does not have exceptions for rape, incest or situations where the life of a woman may be at risk. If the bill passes the Legislature and is approved by voters, lawmakers would then be tasked with implementing it.

Because House Bill 337 would ask the electorate about changing the Montana Constitution, it would need the support of two-thirds of the Legislature to pass.

In the House on Thursday, the legislation got 67 votes, meaning it would need 33 votes in the Senate. Votes on abortion legislation this session have largely fallen on party lines, with GOP support. The breakdown in the Senate is 31 Republicans and 19 Democrats, meaning two Senate Democrats would have to vote for HB 337 for it to clear the Legislature.

The bill is carried by Rep. Caleb Hinkle, R-Belgrade. 

Montana State News Bureau Chief Holly Michels summarizes the day's news from the Montana Legislative session.

"Every one of us is unique, and that uniqueness came at the moment of conception," Hinkle told the House.

Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, said that the bill would raise constitutional concerns and ban abortions before women know they're pregnant. He also said the bill has no limitations on who could assert rights for a fetus, meaning that an estranged spouse, abuser or someone else could have say over a woman's decisions.

"At the end of the day, this, like a lot of the other bills before it, violates our constitutional rights," Farris-Olsen said.

Rep. Emma Kerr-Carpenter, D-Billings, said that the bill would put the Legislature between women and their doctors, and that previous attempts to pass a personhood bill have failed and that voters have not approved measures in the past.

Rep. Kathy Kelker, also a Democrat from Billings, said the bill would ban in vitro fertilization treatments.

In support of the bill, Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence, compared abortions to the Holocaust and said the bill would be a step to preventing them.

"In America, we have a Holocaust happening in every state because we are denying that personhood begins at conception," Greef said.

Three other bills to limit access to abortions have also cleared the Legislature. That includes a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks gestational age; that legislation has been endorsed by Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte. The other two would require informed consent before a medical abortion and require the opportunity to view an ultrasound before an abortion.

A fourth bill, the so-called Montana Born-Alive Infant Protection Act that would also go to voters in 2020, has also advanced. However, legislation accomplish the same thing directly without voter input has also cleared the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House. That legislation is also backed by Gianforte.

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