HELENA – An attempt to limit abortions by changing the Montana Constitution was the focus of familiar arguments Wednesday, but the bill faces a tough road at the Legislature if it is to be placed on the ballot.
Long lines of anti-abortion and abortion rights advocates debated in front of a Senate panel, the first stop for Senate Bill 46.
The measure would ask voters to amend the Constitution to state that the “protection of unborn human life is a compelling state interest,” modifying the constitution’s right-to-privacy protection. Backers said that language would not immediately change any practices in the state, but would force courts to recognize restrictions on abortions in future cases.
The measure will need support from two-thirds of the Legislature to get on the ballot, which will be a challenge for the politically charged issue. In 2007, a legislative proposal to put a “right-to-life” guarantee into the Montana Constitution failed to even get a simple majority in the House.
Still, Sen. Dan McGee of Laurel hopes it will muster enough support among lawmakers.
“There are people on both sides of the aisle that favor this, I don’t know how many,” McGee said. “I’m remaining optimistic, perhaps foolishly so.”
McGee said the Montana Supreme Court has cited the state’s right-to-privacy constitutional amendment when overturning abortion restrictions in the past. He said the change to the Constitution would take away that legal argument.
“The people of Montana must decide this question — not the Supreme Court,” McGee told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The protection of unborn human life is indeed a compelling state interest.”
Supporters argued that abortions should be banned because life begins at conception.
“These unborn children are no less human than you or me,” said Kalispell doctor Ann Bukacek.
Opponents argued the proposed ballot measure is unnecessary, and that it would strip constitutional rights only from pregnant women. They said it would allow government interference into citizens’ lives, and lay the groundwork to outlaw abortion should the Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision be trumped by Congress.
“This leaves the privacy rights of a minority of Montanans to the whims of future legislatures,” said Niki Zupanic with ACLU of Montana. “Our Constitution protects our right to be left alone as much as possible.”
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