HELENA – The Montana House advanced on Thursday a measure that would ask voters to change the state Constitution to define life as beginning at conception, effectively banning most abortion procedures in the state.
The bill is the latest of several measures advanced in the GOP-controlled state to limit abortion access, after voters elected the state’s first Republican governor in 16 years. But this measure would go father than previous proposals, criminalizing abortion in almost all cases.
“In America, we have a holocaust happening in every state because we are denying that personhood begins at conception,” said Republican Rep. Sharon Greef during a hearing held Thursday on the measure.
Opponents said the measure runs against state and federal law protecting access to abortion.
Democratic Rep. Alice Buckley said the bill “would have sweeping restricting consequences on my ability to make decisions about my own body, my health, my safety, my security, my privacy, more so than anything else we’ve seen,” adding that the bill may restrict access to emergency contraception even in cases of rape or incest. Another lawmaker said the bill could limit access to in-vitro fertilization because the process often involves the selection of embryos after fertilization.
Because the measure seeks to change the state Constitution, it requires 100 out of the state’s 150 legislators to vote in favor. With 98 Republican lawmakers, the measure is likely to fall just short of reaching that benchmark.
The House will vote on the bill for a third and final time later week before it heads to the Senate.
The bill defines persons as “all members of mankind at any stage of development, beginning at the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning or condition of dependency.” It would make abortion a criminal act, but exclude unintentional acts by mothers, such as miscarriage.
If passed by the Legislature, the measure will be sent to Montana voters in 2022.
Similar bills have advanced in nearly every legislative session in the state for over a decade. While it is unlikely to pass this year, the measure has gained more traction in recent sessions. The number of House lawmakers voting in favor of the bill increased from 56 in 2019 to 67 in 2021.
Montana joins seven other states that are considering this year similar measures to restrict abortion by defining fetuses as persons, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion access.
Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.
Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.