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GOP lawmakers considering new anti-abortion bills

Anti-abortion legislation has failed consistently under Gov. Steve Bullock’s tenure, but three bills, and perhaps more, are in the works before the 2019 session begins.

As he did in 2017, Sen. Al Olszewski, R-Kalispell, has requested a bill that would ban abortions after a fetus is considered “viable” at around 23 weeks. His fellow Kalispell Republican Derek Skees is considering the idea too. 

“I am planning for this bill, to pursue in the same way as last session’s viability bill. It would be for pre-born children, for those that would be viable outside of a womb,” Olszewski said.

While this remains an important issue for Olszewski, he said it is not one of his priority bills because he expects to focus largely on the state budget and Medicaid expansion. Still, he added, it’s important to keep the issue in front of Montanans.  

“What I am looking at in Montana right now is that a child can be born premature at 23 weeks,” he said. “They have a 50 percent chance of surviving and having a life. We are at a moral quandary where you could have a late-term abortion in one hospital room, and then another room where a preborn child is being saved.” 

 Meanwhile, Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, is considering a referendum asking voters to declare that abortion is not a constitutional right.

Sen. Diane Sands, a Missoula Democrat who has served on the boards of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL in Montana, said Democrats will be ready in opposition.

“Whatever they bring in through the majority Republican Legislature will probably pass, but the governor will more than likely veto it,” Sands said. “We need to make sure that our side presents our arguments, and in forty years those arguments rarely have changed.” 

Last session, Olszewski’s Senate Bill 282 would have prohibited most abortions after they are considered viable, or able to survive outside the womb. Last session’s other major anti-abortion bill came from Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, which would have prohibited abortion at about 20 weeks, unless there is a risk to the mother. He argued then that the timing was related to when a fetus can feel pain.

Gov. Bullock vetoed both bills, writing in his message for Olszewski’s bill that lawmakers “had no business substituting their personal beliefs for the sound medical judgment of our health care professionals or the deeply personal medical decisions of their constituents.”

Sands, citing her more than forty years as an activist, says that not only is this a women’s rights issue but it is also a privacy issue. 

“Respect and trust women, and let them make their own health care decisions,” she said. “There is no role for government in this. It is between a woman and who she decides to share with.”

This story was written for the University of Montana’s Community News Service, which features coverage from students at UM’s School of Journalism.

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