A Montana Anti-Abortion Bill Would Charge Doctors With Murder

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If a new state bill becomes law, abortion doctors in Montana would face homicide charges if they performed terminations under certain circumstances. The legislation, which would ban abortions after 24 weeks even in medical emergencies, passed the state House on April 6 and cleared the state Senate five days later. It's now awaiting the signature of Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat.

Under the bill, any doctor who performed an abortion past the point of fetal viability — generally understood to be around 24 weeks after conception — would be guilty of a felony. There would be no exception for medical emergencies; if the life of a pregnant woman was in danger past the fetal viability threshold, physicians would be required to either induce labor or deliver the fetus via cesarean section, rather than abort it. This effectively means that in certain circumstances, a crucial medical decision would be made not by doctors, but by Montana lawmakers.

"It is the policy of the state to preserve and protect the lives all human beings and to provide protection for the viable human life," said Republican Rep. Theresa Manzella, who supports the bill, according to Montana Public Radio. The legislation initially set the limit for abortion explicitly at 24 weeks, but it was later amended to the point at which the fetus has a "greater than 50-percent chance" of survival outside the womb.

However, despite Manzella's comments, Montana has relatively few anti-abortion laws on the books, at least for a red state. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the only restriction on abortion in Montana is that after the point of fetal viability, abortions may only be performed if the pregnancy or birth poses a risk to the woman's health. That's not ideal, but compared other deep red states — like Mississippi, which imposes more restrictions on abortion than you can shake a stick at — Montana law takes a relatively non-restrictive attitude to abortion access.

That hasn't stopped abortion opponents from trying, though. Over the years, Montana legislatures have attempted to restrict women's access to abortion in a number of ways, such as banning physicians' assistants from performing abortions to, more recently, trying to amend the Montana constitution to ban abortion in the state completely. However, the former law was knocked down by the state Supreme Court, while the second recently failed to get the required votes in the legislature.

Nevertheless, it's clear from this recent bill that abortion rights, despite being codified into law by the U.S. Supreme Court, are never safe from legislative assault, and must be fiercely guarded on a continuous basis.