The House Judiciary Committee on Thursday passed a series of bills restricting abortion and limiting transgender Montanans who wish to participate in interscholastic or college sports in a marathon session that began at 7 a.m.
Four of the bills, HB 140, HB 136, HB 171 and HB 167, would require doctors to offer an ultrasound to women seeking an abortion, ban the procedure after 20 weeks gestational age, create new requirements for chemical abortions and create fines and a felony charge for medical providers who are found to not take necessary actions to preserve the life of a born-alive infant.
House Bill 112, which the committee first heard in an emotional meeting Monday, would require K-12 and college athletes to participate on teams corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth, essentially preventing transgender women from participating in women’s athletics.
Abortion legislation has long been a priority of legislative Republicans, but their efforts were largely vetoed by a Democratic governor. The arrival of Gov. Greg Gianforte, a member of the GOP, has put renewed vigor behind their efforts at enacting socially conservative policy.
The bills, especially HB 112, have engendered significant opposition from the public. When the Judiciary Committee first heard the bill on Monday, opponents heavily outnumbered supporters, testifying that it would be detrimental to the mental health of trans youth who already experience increased rates of suicide.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association already has regulations regarding the participation of transgender athletes in sports. The NCAA calls for fairness and inclusion, and it pulled sporting events from North Carolina in 2016 because of its “bathroom bill” requiring trans people to use bathrooms that correspond to the sex on on their birth certificates.
During Friday’s discussion, Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman, said he opposed the bill because of the overwhelming testimony against it, citing hundreds of messages he received in opposition and only a few in support of it.
“We heard from multiple medical professionals that this bill would perpetuate harmfulness and (mis)understandings about trans kids and would cause great harm,” he said.
Democrats have additionally warned that the state could lose federal education funding after President Joseph Biden signed an executive order Wednesday ordering all agencies to follow a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
HB112 ultimately passed 11-8, with all Democrats and Rep. Mallerie Stromswold, R-Billings, voting no. Stromswold was not immediately available for comment.
The Judiciary Committee was also scheduled to hear HB 113 on Thursday morning, a bill that would fine medical providers as much as $50,000 if they performed gender-confirming procedures or administered puberty blockers to minors.
But following a lengthy executive meeting in which Republicans met without press in the room, citing the fact that they did not have a quorum that would fall under public meeting laws, the vote on the bill was delayed as lawmakers finalize a so-far unknown amendment.
The committee also passed HB144, which would eliminate penalties for law enforcement officers who do not enforce public health orders.It tabled HB114, which would allow someone to record another person without their consent if a crime has been committed or they suspect a crime is going to be committed.
The four abortion bills all passed on party lines, 12-7, despite concerns from opponents and legislative legal analysts that some of the bills could violate the state constitution’s privacy clause.
“I don’t think we’ve seen the last of these,” said Martha Stahl, the president of Planned Parenthood Montana. “I think we’re in for a lot of conversation on abortion.”