Bill Mired in Abortion Debate Moves Forward

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – A legislative measure making it illegal to kill an unborn child easily cleared its first committee vote Friday, despite being mired in the abortion debate.

Supporters of the bill said it has nothing to do with abortion and noted the bill exempts “lawful procedures” from prosecution. But those supporters were unwilling to change the measure to clarify that the protected procedures specifically include abortion.

“It has nothing to do with an abortion,” said sponsor Rep. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell. “It places a value on a wanted pregnancy.”

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.

The bill’s supporters argue the bill is needed to prosecute those who kill an unborn baby, perhaps during a crime against the expectant mother.

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

Most of the minority Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted against the bill Friday, arguing abortion opponents will use it as a backdoor attack on the legal procedure. Nonetheless, the committee cleared House Bill 167 on a 15-5 vote.

Rep. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, tried to amend the measure to specifically say abortions were excluded from the scope of the bill. She said her proposed changed was modeled on a similar federal law.

Although she had the support of the bill sponsor, others opposed it — arguing that putting the language in the code could give abortion a legitimacy they resist.

“Abortion either is or isn’t a lawful process,” Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre.

The bill was supported at its hearing earlier this week by abortion foes and opposed by abortion rights activists.

Those opponents argued the measure carry unintended consequences, such as by exposing a women’s medical record to public scrutiny during prosecution and adding a risk of prosecution to doctors involved in procedures not considered customary.

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