Montana legislature passes post-viability abortion law

New Montana legislation allows termination of pregnancies that endanger mothers' lives after a fetus is deemed potentially viable outside the womb, but restricts the termination methods to induced labor or cesarean section to possibly save the child's life.

The law requires physicians to provide life-support procedures for viable fetuses and forbids any life-ending procedures on the fetus "prior to or during delivery." Violators could be charged with a felony.

Senate Bill 282 (which revises abortion laws concerning a viable fetus) was passed as amended April 11, clearing a path to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock for potential signing.

"The governor has four options: sign the bill into law, recommend amendments to the bill, veto the bill, or take no action. If the governor takes no action, the bill becomes law after 10 days," said Matthew Brower, executive director of the Montana Catholic Conference.

No responses to NCR inquiries of the governor's office had been received by early April 12.

If the legislation is signed into law, Brower predicts court challenges to it.

One of the House amendments had altered the bill's definition of fetal viability from 24 weeks to a "gestational age at which the probability that the fetus is able to live outside the mother's womb, albeit with artificial aid … is greater than 50 percent."

Supporters said the bill seeks to help women with dangerous pregnancies as well as protect the unborn child.

The bill's primary sponsor, Republican Sen. Albert Olszewski, an orthopedic surgeon, told WORLD News Service that SB282 stipulates "two methods of terminating a pregnancy — and both would produce a live birth and it's safe for the mother."

"It reverses the pro-choice argument that the safest way to save a woman's life is to kill the baby," Olszewski added.

Opponents of SB 282, including Planned Parenthood Montana and the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, charged the bill is unconstitutional and hamstrings women's medical care.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana website, SB282 "flies in the face of over 40 years of SCOTUS precedent on the right of women to access abortion services. The Supreme Court has found again and again that states are prevented from setting a viability marker and that viability should only be determined by a doctor on a case-by-case basis."

Language within the law states that the "United States Supreme Court has determined that states have a legitimate interest in protecting both a woman's health and the potentiality of human life and that each interest grows and reaches a compelling point at various stages of a woman's approach to the full term of a pregnancy."

Another proposed Montana law that would restrict abortion, Senate Bill 329, has passed the Senate and is currently being considered in the House. It defines 20 weeks of post-fertilization as the point at which a fetus can feel pain and sets strong restrictions and penalties for most abortions performed after that period.

However, Brower said, the "coordination instruction amendment for SB329 states that if both SB329 and SB282 are passed and approved, then the Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act [SB329] is void."

"Bills like SB282 and SB329 serve as a good reminder that while it is gravely immoral that courts will not allow states to provide legal protection for all unborn children, it also appalling that we don't do more to support mothers and families," Brower emailed NCR.

"We need to remember that regardless of whether or not legislation restricting abortion passes and becomes law, there is absolutely nothing that prevents every one of us from taking concrete steps to reduce abortion by offering assistance to mothers and fathers in need," he added.

More than 40 states have laws restricting abortions at certain points during pregnancy.

[Dan Morris Young is NCR West Coast correspondent and contributes to The Field Hospital feature series.]

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here