AMAC Exclusive – By Neil Banerji
On Tuesday, Montana Republican Governor Greg Gianforte signed three more pro-life bills into law, adding to a list of five others from earlier this month. The flurry of legislation has made Montana an epicenter for the pro-life movement, providing an example for other red states to follow.
The first bill signed by Gianforte this week, House Bill 721, prohibits an abortion procedure officially called “dilation and evacuation.” Usually performed in the second trimester of pregnancy – when most doctors agree unborn babies can feel pain – it involves an abortion provider using instruments to dismember and remove a fetus from the mother’s womb.
Montana Planned Parenthood CEO Martha Fuller called the law a “grave threat to Montanans’ health and safety,” also announcing that her organization would be asking a court to block implementation of the bill – highlighting an ongoing struggle between Montana courts and lawmakers over who has the constitutional authority to regulate the abortion industry in the state. Notably, however, the bill has an exception if the procedure is necessary to preserve the life of the mother.
Gianforte also signed House Bill 544, which requires pre-authorizations for abortions covered by Medicaid, House Bill 862, which blocks Medicaid from covering abortions except in cases of rape and incest or when the life of the mother is at stake, and House Bill 937, which increases licensure requirements for clinics that provide abortion care.
This legislation adds to another slate of five pro-life laws also passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and signed into law earlier this month that protect both the lives of the unborn and the conscience rights of medical providers.
The most important of those bills is Senate Bill 154. The legislation would effectively overturn a 1999 Montana Supreme Court decision which determined that abortion fell under the 9th Amendment’s general right to privacy – a ruling otherwise known as the Armstrong precedent. Since then, state judges have used the decision to restrict what the Montana legislature can do to protect the unborn. Now, in the wake of Dobbs, Montana Republicans believe the Armstrong precedent should no longer stand.
The bill is remarkably short – just two sentences long – and states: “The right of individual privacy as referenced in the Montana constitution, the Montana Code Annotated, or the Administrative Rules of Montana does not create, and may not be construed as creating or recognizing, a right to abortion or to governmental funding of abortion.”
In testimony before the state legislature, Republican State Senator Keith Rieger, the bill’s sponsor, argued that the state supreme court’s previous decision to define abortion as a form of privacy was incorrect because the framers of the Constitution conceived of the right to privacy as an “individual” one. Since abortion affects the lives of both the mother and the unborn child rather than a single individual, it accordingly does not fall under the protection of the Ninth Amendment.
The second bill Gianforte signed, House Bill 625, requires health care professionals to provide care to infants born alive as a result of a failed abortion. This legislation is similar to other “born alive” bills introduced in states throughout the country as well as the at the federal level – where congressional Democrats notably voted it down.
The third piece of legislation, House Bill 575, bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy unless the mother’s life is in jeopardy. Supporters of the bill noted that, at 24 weeks, unborn babies have 10 fingers and toes, a heartbeat, fingerprints, and can respond to light and sounds from outside the uterus.
Montana Republicans also passed House Bill 786, which requires abortion providers to report the negative effects of abortion procedures. Abortions, especially in the second trimester or later, can lead to significant physical and psychological harm for women that often goes unreported by the abortion-friendly media and medical establishments. According to Foundations of Life, a pro-life pregnancy center, about 1 in 100 early abortions and 1 in 50 late-term abortions result in serious medical complications, while many other women report long-lasting emotional struggles.
Finally, House Bill 303 gives permission to healthcare professionals to refuse to provide services they are opposed to on moral, ethical, or religious grounds, including abortion procedures.
In addition to legislation protecting the lives of the unborn, Gianforte has also signed several measures offering support for mothers and families after babies are born. One of those, House Bill 225, provides a tax credit for families who adopt a child.
Democrats have vigorously opposed the Republican-sponsored bills. In a joint statement, the state Senate and House Minority leaders accused Republicans of “dismantling women’s rights,” saying, “With these bills, Republicans are supporting government overreach and intrusion into our most intimate decision-making. Each individual Montanan alone has the right to decide their reproductive health care – not Republican politicians.”
However, Gianforte and Montana Republicans show no signs of backing down. As the pro-life movement continues to work with conservative lawmakers in other states to enact similar protections for the unborn, Montana could provide a useful blueprint for success.
Neil Banerji is a proud Las Vegas resident and former student at the University of Oxford. In his spare time, he enjoys reading Winston Churchill and Edmund Burke.