Gianforte signs five abortion bills; Dems accuse him of ‘dismantling women’s rights’

By: - May 3, 2023 7:13 pm

Gov. Greg Gianforte claps before signing five abortion laws on May 3, 2023. (Photo by Nicole Girten/Daily Montanan)

Gov. Greg Gianforte started off a signing ceremony with fellow Republicans for five abortion bills with a round of applause for “protecting the lives for the most vulnerable amongst us, unborn children.”

Legislation signed into law Wednesday includes a bill to ban abortion after 24 weeks; a resurrection of Legislative Referendum-131 with new language after it failed at the ballot box last fall; and a bill to allow medical practitioners and staff to object to participating in healthcare services due to their religious beliefs.

Abortion is protected under the right to privacy as determined in the state Supreme Court decision Armstrong vs. State.

“Our Declaration of Independence clearly states that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” Gianforte said. “But without life, there is no liberty or the pursuit of happiness.”

Gianforte, a Republican, said another five abortion bills await his signature as soon as they get to his desk.

The Montana Sexual & Reproductive Health Collective urged the governor in a letter to veto all 10 bills, according to a Wednesday news release.

“While these ten bills are down from the initial 40 anti-abortion, anti-sexual health bills …it is still ten too many,” the release read.

Democrats said the governor eroded Montanans’ constitutional right to privacy and access to reproductive health care with “an unprecedented number of harmful anti-abortion bills.”

“With these bills, Republicans are supporting government overreach and intrusion into our most intimate decision-making. Each individual Montanan alone has the right to decide their reproductive health care – not Republican politicians,” said House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, D-Helena, and Senate Minority Leader Pat Flowers, D-Belgrade, in a joint statement Wednesday.

Senate Bill 154

A bill sponsored by Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, who is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, carves out an exception to abortion under the constitutional right to privacy. A legal review note for the bill said it was at odds with the state constitution, which Regier responded to in a rebuttal saying it was the state’s Supreme Court that decided that abortion was covered under the right to privacy, and not the constitution.

House Bill 303

Sponsored by nurse and Chairwoman of House Judiciary Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, this bill provides protections for medical practitioners and facilities that object to participation in health care services based on conscience, defined as “ethical, moral, or religious beliefs or principles.”

“Abortion is gut wrenching and heartbreaking. Often medical providers find themselves in the middle of these tragic situations, compromising their sincerely held ethical, moral and religious beliefs for too long,” Gianforte said.

Opponents of the bill said in a legislative committee hearing that medical staff already have the ability to refuse participation in procedures, and the bill would be a violation of federal law and a violation of patients’ interests.

House Bill 575

This bill bans abortions after 24 weeks with a definition for viability by that stage of development, and it requires medical practitioners to perform and keep record of an ultrasound. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, also includes a presumption of viability, meaning if the medical professional is unsure if the fetus is viable, it legally would be considered viable.

“Many of us believe that life begins at conception,” Sheldon-Galloway said. “Our Constitution protects us at viability. That needed to be defined.,” Sheldon-Galloway said.

Planned Parenthood said in a release Wednesday that it is amending a lawsuit against the state on another abortion bill, House Bill 721 from House Speaker Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, that limits access to surgical abortions, to also include HB 575.

“By adding unnecessary and burdensome red tape to a safe and legal medical procedure, these politicians have made clear that it was never about our health and safety,” said Martha Fuller, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Montana in statement. “It was always about undermining our personal freedom and shaming people who seek abortions.”

House Bill 625

Sponsored by Rep. Kerri Seekins-Crowe, R-Billings, this bill is a resurrection of the ballot issue LR-131 that voters rejected last fall, which would have required doctors save any infant born alive after an abortion later in pregnancy.

New language from the ballot says parents or guardians can turn down medical treatment under certain circumstances when a baby is not expected to survive, a major critique from the movement against LR-131 last fall.

House Bill 786

Another Sheldon-Galloway proposal, this bill has the state create regulations for the “humane disposition” of dead infants and fetuses, and other regulations of maternal complications and deaths tied “directly or indirectly” to abortions.

It also requires physicians to keep files on both the mother and fetus involved in an abortion, report regularly on when medication to induce an abortion was prescribed and any side effects. It also subjects any provider who violates the new requirements to sanctions, including a one-year license suspension.

Gianforte said that five more abortion bills were headed for his desk and will get his signature once they are ready. Outside of HB 721, these include:

  • HB 937 from Sheldon-Galloway to require licensure and inspections of abortion providers and their facilities and employees.
  • HB 225 from Rep. Courtenay Sprunger, R-Kalispell, provides for an adoption tax credit, one of Gianforte’s priorities for the budget this session. The bill provides a $7,500 state income tax credit for parents who adopt children from the state foster care system and $5,000 for all qualifying adoptions. The credit would apply retroactively to all adoptions on or after July 1, 2022, and is effective through the end of 2031.

“Too often we lose unborn children because their parents don’t feel ready to welcome their child into the world with the support they need and deserve,” Gianforte said. “Adoption, not abortion, is often the answer.”

  • HB 862 from Rep. Mike Hopkins, R-Missoula, prohibits Medicaid from funding abortions. Medicaid currently funds abortions under three circumstances: rape or incest, life of the mother at risk, or if it is deemed medically necessary.
  • HB 544 from Rep. Jane Gillette, R-Bozeman, prohibits Montana Medicaid abortion funding for medically necessary abortions, which makes up the majority of Medicaid abortions in the state.

The Department of Public Health and Human Services put into effect a new rule that requires providers of Medicaid abortions to seek prior authorization for medically necessary abortions, require patients to receive a physical exam and require abortions to be conducted by a physician, excluding nurse practitioners. Abortion providers announced last week they sued the Department over the new rule.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

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.