Kalispell Lawmaker’s Bill to Protect Fetuses Draws on Abortion Debate

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The sponsor of a bill making it illegal to kill an unborn child says the proposal has nothing to do with abortion — even though abortion foes and supporters lined up to take different positions on the measure.

The bill sparked familiar arguments over abortion between old foes at a legislative hearing Tuesday. It is expected to clear the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee. The panel’s chairman said a vote could come later this week.

Groups opposed to abortion said Kalispell Rep. Keith Regier’s bill is needed to prosecute those who kill an unborn baby, perhaps during a crime against the expectant mother. They said House Bill 167 excludes legal abortions.

“I would like to mention there is a far higher authority here. God hates those who shed innocent blood,” said Harris Himes, a pastor and activist with the conservative Eagle Forum. “This unborn baby is an innocent victim and those who kill it should be punished.”

Regier, a Republican, said he thinks it makes sense to criminalize the death of a fetus because it should count as a separate crime, such as in cases when the expectant mother is murdered. He said several dozen other states have similar laws.

The measure defines an “unborn child” as a “human who is conceived but not yet born” and adds the term to the state homicide statutes. It aims to exclude injuries caused during standard medical care and lawful procedures.

Groups largely in favor of abortion rights say the bill is an attempt to put politically charged language into law.

They worried it could carry unintended consequences, such as by exposing a women’s medical record to public scrutiny during prosecution and opening up doctors involved in procedures not considered customary to prosecution. The bill’s opponents argued there are better ways to prevent violence against women.

“The Montana Legislature should focus on prosecuting violence against pregnant women without political overtones,” said Alexandra Corcoran, with NARAL Pro-Choice Montana. “We can do so without becoming entangled in the abortion debate.”

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