Gov. Bullock Lets Montana Abortion Bill Become Law

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Steve Bullock on Thursday allowed an abortion bill to become law without his signature, a strategic gamble that anticipates a successful legal challenge of the measure and kills an identical referendum that would have gone to voters in 2014.

House Bill 391 and its companion referendum, House Bill 521 would require girls younger than 18 to obtain parental consent before getting access to abortions.

Bullock and women’s health advocates said they believe the measure violates the privacy and protection rights of young women, and they’re confident the law will be struck down in courts.

Rep. Jerry Bennett, R-Libby, who sponsored the House Bill 391, said he anticipated the Democratic governor’s move and he is confident the law will hold up in court. The law makes sense and is consistent with other parental notification measures, he said.

“You can’t get a tattoo, can’t get your ears pierced, and you can’t play sports without parental consent,” Bennett said in a phone interview Thursday.

Reproductive health advocates argue that the measure puts minors in harm’s way. Requesting parental consent for an abortion is a problem for young women who are in abusive families, and victims of rape and incest need to be protected under the law, too, they said.

Sara Rossi, an advocate with Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence thinks this law ignores those Montanans.

“No one thinks about the minority in these situations, they think about the majority, which is healthy families who have open communication,” Rossi said.

The state Legislature passed a similar law in 1995 that was upheld in the U.S. Supreme Court. However, the Montana Supreme Court ruled in another case that the state constitution’s right-to-privacy provisions give females the right to decide whether to get a legal abortion, prompting the state Justice Department to abandon efforts to defend the parental-notice mandate.

Planned Parenthood has offered to lead the lawsuit to challenge the new law.

Bullock has been working with the Montana Reproductive Rights Coalition for weeks to develop the strategy that would kill two abortion measures with one stone, coalition officials said.

Abortion-rights groups said they are upset that Republicans used the referendum process in an attempt to skirt the executive office — and nullify a Bullock veto.

“As long as lawmakers are willing to pass unconstitutional bills, we need to take a look at every solution available to us in order to challenge the constitutionality of those bills,” Gail Gutsche Executive Director of NARAL Pro-choice Montana said.

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