Health care providers tell Secretary of State to correct voter pamphlets over LR-131 inaccuracies

By: - October 17, 2022 6:44 pm

The 2022 Voter Election Guide produced by the Montana Secretary of State’s Office (Montana Secretary of State).

Attorneys representing Montana health care providers said in a letter to the Secretary of State’s Office the 2022 Voter Information Pamphlet contained false information on a ballot measure that would penalize doctors for not performing treatments on “born-alive” infants.

The attorneys and doctors are asking Montana Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to correct the information by retracting it or letting voters know in advance of the upcoming election.

Montana’s absentee ballots went out last week.

Ballot measure LR-131, also called the “Born-Alive Infant Protection Act,” would impose criminal penalties, up to 20 years in prison or a $50,000 fine, on health care providers who do not act to preserve the life of “born-alive infants,” as defined in the ballot language, “including infants born during an attempted abortion.”

The Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, made up of obstetricians with specialties in high-risk pregnancies, and the Montana Section of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, through representation from Upper Seven Law firm, said LR-131 proponents in the voter guide are misquoting the bill’s text, confusing voters.

In the voter guide, proponents and opponents of LR-131 each give their arguments and their rebuttals. In their rebuttal, proponents for LR-131 said opponents of the bill are citing “mythical situations” the bill would apply to, like if a woman’s water breaks at 20 weeks.

However, Dr. Tim Mitchell, an OB/GYN who specializes in maternal-fetal medicine, said on Twitter that pregnancy complications like preterm premature rupture of membranes, when a pregnant patient’s water breaks before 37 weeks gestation, do occur and would apply.

At a press conference in September, Mitchell explained that sometimes with high-risk pregnancies there can be complications when there are limits to how far medical care can change outcomes.

“In these situations, it is critical that the family has the time to process this information and to meet with specialists who have extensive experience with these problems. It is also critical that the family has the ability to make healthcare decisions for themselves and their unborn child,” Mitchell said.

In their rebuttal, the proponents’ argue LR-131 would require medical intervention for “infants born alive after an induced labor, cesarean section, attempted abortion or another method,” with an emphasis on “after.”

The bill includes “natural” labor as well, which the rebuttal did not cite. Opponents want the public to understand that LR-131 would apply to “all infants, regardless of how labor began” and argue the Secretary of State should correct the record.

“For example, a voter who firmly opposes abortion may not understand that LR-131 nevertheless would also apply in instances where a woman goes into spontaneous labor early and an infant is born extremely preterm,” the letter to the Secretary of State’s Office read. “LR-131 would require physicians to take actions to sustain the life of the infant regardless of the infant’s prognosis or the family’s wishes.”

The organizations are asking the Montana Secretary of State’s Office to issue a retraction or correction to voters by Oct. 21. The letter pointed to precedent for corrections as former Secretary of State Corey Stapleton sent out a corrected mailer in 2018.

Communications Director with the Secretary of State’s Office Richie Melby said in an email he believed the office received the letter but due to the office being “swamped across all departments,” he was “unsure whether an opportunity to review or respond has occurred.”

At the press conference last month, patients who had gone through the loss of a baby due to a severe condition said they would not have been able to choose how to spend their final moments together if LR-131 were enacted.

Infanticide is already illegal in Montana, as outlined in the Montana Code Annotated.

The language for the bill stems from House Bill 167, which was referred by the 2021 Legislature to voters in the 2022 general election.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.