HELENA, Mont. (AP) – Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed three bills Monday restricting abortion access in the state, celebrating it as a success after several attempts to pass similar measures in previous year were vetoed by former Democratic governors.
The bills ban abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, require health care providers to give pregnant women the opportunity to view an ultrasound before performing an abortion, and place several restrictions on abortion pills, including requiring that they be administered in-person rather than through telehealth.
Gianforte signed the measures in the presence of a jubilant crowd of Republican lawmakers and anti-abortion activists.
“It’s a promising day, a day that will go down in our state’s history as we defend life,” Gianforte said.
The new laws mark a shift in the state’s approach to abortion regulation, after 16 years under Democratic governors, who vetoed past attempts by the Republican-controlled Legislature to limit access to the procedure. Montana joins several other GOP-led states in passing additional restrictions on abortion access this year.
Republican lawmakers have said the bills will protect the health and safety of women seeking abortion and protect fetuses capable of feeling pain. Opponents have said the bills will unconstitutionally violate women’s access to abortion and interfere with the relationship between patients seeking abortions and health care providers.
“We have waited 48 years to see our governor in Montana sign this bill,” said Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, the Republican who sponsored the measure to ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. She said the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision – establishing a nationwide right to abortion in 1973 – was misguided.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says fetuses are incapable of feeling pain until 24 weeks of gestation.
Proponents of the rules limiting where and how abortion pills can be administered said the pills can cause medical complications that require medical supervision, calling them “the wild west of the abortion industry.”
But at Planned Parenthood of Montana, which operate five of the state’s seven clinics, 75% of abortions are done through medication, rather than surgical procedures, and medical experts say they are a relatively safe.
Pro-abortion activists say the law will disproportionately harm low-income, rural and Native American residents in the state.
Caitlin Borgmann, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Montana, said in January that the bills represent a step toward a long-term goal to make abortion completely unavailable in Montana.
“These bills represent the worst kind of government overreach – placing the government between patients and the medical care they deserve,” Borgmann said. “Republicans have plowed ahead despite clear warning that the bills are unconstitutional and will be challenged in court.”
Another measure passed by the Legislature last week would put to voters in the next statewide election the “Montana Born-Alive Infant Protection Act.” If approved by voters, abortion providers would be required to care for fetuses born alive during botched abortion procedures.
Opponents of the measure say fetuses are not killed in the rare instances when they are born alive during botched abortions, but receive care and are protected under state and federal law.
Republican lawmakers also attempted this year to pass a constitutional amendment to define life as beginning at conception, in an effort to ban all abortions, but the measure came five votes shy of receiving the necessary two thirds majority of the Legislature to pass.
Samuels is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.
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