HELENA – The state House backed a bill Wednesday seeking to prevent women from being coerced into an abortion by having a patient screened before the procedure.
House Bill 544 would require women to be evaluated at least one hour before an abortion to see if she is feeling pressured or is at risk of having a negative reaction after the operation. The measure would allow patients to sue doctors for $10,000 for failing to screen them.
Representatives approved the measure 55-44. It faces a final House vote before heading to the Senate.
The measure’s supporters said abortions are psychologically traumatic procedures and the proposal would protect women from doctors who might disregard a woman’s health or mental state before performing an abortion.
“Women do suffer physiological damage,” said Republican Rep. Kristin Hansen of Havre. “When you have an abortion it’s not like having a tumor removed or a piece of diseased tissue taken out.”
Legislators opposed to the measure say it places an unnecessary hurdle between a doctor and patient and goes against standard medical procedure.
“We don’t try to specify a one-size-fits-all way of dealing with patients in this intensely personal area of their lives,” said Democratic Rep. Dick Barrett of Missoula.
There are a handful of Republican-backed abortion bills before the Legislature that range from making it slightly more difficult to get an abortion, to movement toward an abortion ban. The bills enjoy the support of many Republicans, who dominate the Legislature.
Those supporting the measures say there needs to be more consultation and government regulation before abortion decisions are made. Some legislators argue the procedure ends a life and should not be used.
Opponents say the issue is one of women’s health and control over their bodies. They argue there is a right to privacy for women seeking an abortion and they should be able to make a choice without government interference.
Senate lawmakers have already passed a bill to the House to require parental notification for girls seeking an abortion. Another bill defining a person as a human life at any stage of development has passed out of committee.
A bill that proposes a constitutional referendum saying there is no state right to an abortion and prohibiting public funding for the procedure has also passed out of committee. The bill would have to be passed by two-thirds of the Legislature before it could go to voters.
Some of the abortion measures have faced Republican opposition for expanding government’s influence on people’s lives.
A bill to discourage women from having an abortion by requiring an ultrasound before the procedure failed on the House floor with bipartisan opposition.
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