Abortion Foes Say Voters May Trump Constitution

By Beacon Staff

HELENA — Abortion foes seeking to expand the state’s parental notification law said Friday that voter-backed laws can trump the Montana Constitution.

The debate played significantly in a hearing on plans to rewrite and expand a recently passed ballot measure requiring minors under 16 years old to receive parental permission for an abortion.

House Bill 391 increases the age requiring consent to all minors under 18 years old.

It also requires both parent and teen to receive and sign a notification form about the dangers of the procedure written by the abortion foes, and makes many other changes to toughen the law.

Backers say it is a sequel to the ballot initiative that was overwhelmingly approved by voters in November. Supporters said that Montanans made it clear that parents want to be more involved in the decisions.

And they defended the proposed expansion from a legal note suggesting the bill may violate the constitutional right to privacy protections that courts in the past have said prohibit government intrusion into health care decisions.

“The will of the people was clearly articulated, and I believe that needs to be taken into account,” said Jeff Laszloffy, with the Montana Family Foundation. “The will of the people should never be held subservient to the Constitution.”

Opponents argued that the Constitution isn’t trumped by law, even those directly passed by voters.

“Our constitution was written to make sure that certain basic rights, like privacy, religious freedom, and equal protection under the law, aren’t stripped away at the whim of a popular vote of the majority,” said Niki Zupanic of the ACLU of Montana. “History is full of examples of voters or legislatures seeking to restrict the rights of an unpopular or powerless minority.”

Opponents, led by pro-abortion rights advocates, said most teens already involve their parents. They argued that some cannot, such as in cases of incest, and said requiring such permission can lead to more illegal abortions.

The advocates said that abortions have proven to be among the safest of medical procedures, contrary to the information in the lengthy consent form the bill would require.

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