Let the little children suffer

May 22, 2022 8:29 am

The Montana Capitol (Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

With the demise of Roe vs. Wade in the air, conservative state legislators, grounded in partisan and evangelical ideology, are vying to outdo each other in adopting laws that would prohibit and punish abortion. Louisiana Republicans, for example, advanced (but then pulled) a bill that would have classified abortion as homicide and would have allowed prosecutors to criminally charge patients; the bill would have granted constitutional rights to the “person” of a fertilized egg.

Montana’s legislature has not gone quite that far, at least yet.  But the 2021 session did pass, and the governor signed into law various anti-abortion laws, four of which are being challenged in court. One, the Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act would prohibit abortions at eight weeks and would punish a violation of the Act as a felony (along with other civil sanctions).

Ironically, though, in their fervor to protect and grant personhood rights to pre-viability fetuses, Montana’s nominally good Christian legislators seemed to have forgotten an important admonition from the Bible. In Matthew 19:14 when His disciples tried to prevent Him from praying over the little children, Jesus rebuked them, saying: “Suffer the little children to come unto Me and do not forbid them. . .”

Sadly, the 2021 legislature flipped that holy reproof on its head. Here’s how.

What follows is a listing of some of the bills that would have benefited little children that the legislature (or the Governor) killed:

HB 2 amendments that would have fed more children by eliminating copays for school meals; improving early childhood education by restoring funding for STARS to Quality; and maintaining access to children’s mental health care by fully funding the CSCT program.

HB 228 which would have supported working families and small employers with a paid family leave program.

HB 369 which would have funded school-based mental health promotion and wellness programs to reduce depression and suicidality among youth.

HB 631 which would have put money in the pockets of families with children by increasing the state earned income tax credit.

HB 624 which would have established a business task force to address the workforce challenge posed by lack of affordable child care (this one was vetoed by Gov. Greg Gianforte).

HB 222 which would have improved children’s health by limiting cost-sharing for insulin.

HB 664 which would have improved children’s health by creating an insulin safety net program.

SB 407 which would have expanded child care access through child care business development grants.

SB 342 which would have expanded access to public preschool by including preschool-age children in schools’ state funding calculations.

HB 27 which would have helped educators support children experiencing trauma by authorizing “handle with care” programs.

HB 227 which would have addressed children’s mental health needs by establishing a student mental health screening pilot program.

HB 284 which would have put more money into the pockets of families with children by ensuring that workers can earn a living wage.

It’s been said that nominally good Christian legislators are your friend before you’re born; after that, you’re on your own. The 2021 legislature proves up that adage in spades. 

Indeed, these legislators managed to turn “Suffer the little children to come unto me. . .” into “Let the little children suffer.” 

I’m betting Jesus isn’t happy.

So endeth the lesson.

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James C. Nelson
James C. Nelson

James C. Nelson is a retired lawyer and former Montana Supreme Court Justice. He lives in Helena.