HELENA – Republicans who have long blasted health care laws they feel put the government between doctors and patients are now backing a bill that orders doctors to perform an ultrasound before an abortion.
Republicans backing the bill said they don’t think such ultrasounds are a medical mandate but rather an attempt to prevent a procedure they feel should be illegal anyway. They argued it is not hypocritical to support the government intervention in cases of abortion.
House Bill 280, the focus of a tense hearing Friday in the House Judiciary Committee, would tell doctors they must describe the ultrasound results to women before an abortion. Doctors who don’t could face felony charges and end up in prison, a provision that brought opposition from at least one medical group.
The fate of the measure, and several other anti-abortion bills, is unclear. They appear to have a very good chance of clearing a Legislature firmly in GOP control.
But Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s veto pen looms large, even if he hasn’t said how he will react to the new slate of Republican anti-abortion bills.
The Democrat is not outspoken on abortion, but he has made it clear in the past that he feels the issue should be left to women and their doctors. Schweitzer warned lawmakers this week in his State of the State speech against laws that “abridge individual rights and choices.”
One measure making it illegal to kill an unborn child except in cases of medical procedures, including abortion as long as it remains legal, already has cleared the House and will go to the Senate. Other proposals include a plan to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment stating nothing in the document grants a right to an abortion.
The arguments on both sides, although familiar, were also typically heated at Friday’s hearing — especially when one Republican referred to the “murderer” who conducted the procedure. Arguments for the measure were often focused on the abortion issue rather than the medical necessity of requiring an ultrasound prior to the procedure.
Abortion rights advocates and civil libertarians opposed the bill, zeroing in on the perceived injustice of mandating another procedure and adding an additional medical expense on women.
“This is government getting involved in an individual’s life, forcing them to do something, not allowing them to make their own decision,” said John Marshall of Hot Springs. “This is a bill that would force a citizen of Montana to do something that the government wishes them to do.”
The ACLU of Montana made it clear they believe the proposal is an unconstitutional mandate that would create litigation that would end up in the Montana Supreme Court.
The abortion opponents argue that if women see an ultrasound they will change their mind about the abortion, which they don’t believe should take place.
Rep. Ken Peterson, R-Billings, said some teenagers who are getting an abortion are making a big choice before their brains are fully developed. He argued the government has a role mandating that they are educated on the choice, even if it increases the cost of the health care procedure, because a human life is at stake.
“I believe that what the woman is carrying is an unborn child, a minor,” Peterson said. “That’s why I think this is justified.”
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