Mixed Day for Abortion Foes at Capitol

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Proposals aimed at restricting abortion faced a mixed day at the Capitol Tuesday after Republican lawmakers advanced one constitutional change, stalled on another and agreed to keep working on a proposed change in law requiring parental notification.

With the GOP in firm control of the Legislature, restrictive abortion measures have often received endorsements in both chambers for an issue favored by many Republicans.

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, is carrying both proposed changes to the Montana Constitution that need approval from two-thirds of the total Legislature to be submitted to the voters.

A Senate committee backed her House Bill 574, which would ask voters to say the Montana Constitution does not include a right to abortion or its public funding. The plan has already cleared the House with 66 votes and needs 34 votes when it hits the Senate floor, an unlikely threshold since Republicans hold 28 seats in the chamber.

The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked over the other proposed change to the Constitution, House Bill 490, a so-called “personhood” amendment that asks voters if they want the constitution to define a human life as beginning at conception, intending to curtail or halt abortions in the state.

Supporters of the measure argued lawmakers need to take action to stop abortion, using their faith and sense of morality to legislate what they think is right.

Opponents said the proposal was unconstitutional.

“This is essentially trying to override Roe v. Wade via the Montana Constitution and that’s just never going to hold up in court,” said Sen. Anders Blewett, D-Great Falls.

The measure stalled on a 6-6 vote. Sen. Jim Shockley of Victor was the lone Republican voting against the proposal.

Shockley continues to work on his own proposal requiring minors to give parents notice before having an abortion, and is confident differences with the House can be resolved.

The House wants to require notification for those less than 18 years old, while the Senate wants to require it just for those under 16. On Tuesday, the Senate sent the issue to a negotiating committee.

Supporters argue younger minors need help with such a serious decision, while critics said the proposal would put unnecessary hurdles for young people who need the operation.