Elinor Smith

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- The Senate passed a bill 30-to-20 Tuesday that would criminalize the abortion of a viable fetus, or a fetus that could survive outside of the womb, unless it is to save the mother’s life.

The bill now has one more vote in the Senate before it moves back to the House for review. 

House Bill 575 would require that patients seeking an abortion get a determination of viability. Under the bill, viability of a fetus is presumed after 24 weeks or if uncertainty exists about the viability of the fetus. The bill does allow for abortion if the mother’s life is at stake, but it does not include exceptions for rape or incest.

Republican Representative Lola Sheldon-Galloway is the sponsor of HB 575 but Republican Senator Daniel Emrich from Great Falls carried it in the Senate.

“When we look at who it is that the hand of government should protect, it's the ones that can't defend themselves. We have all sorts of laws all through this nation, through this state, that say that the people that can't protect themselves must be protected. It's a no-brainer in my opinion. When we talk about red tape, I can't say that there's any red tape that could supersede a child's right to live,” Emrich said. 

Democratic Senator Andrea Olsen from Missoula spoke up against the bill, saying it would interfere with a patient’s relationship with their doctor and add unnecessary red tape to an already time-sensitive medical situation.

“This legislation is a solution in search of a problem. Montana law already prohibits abortion after viability. However, current law leaves providers room to use their best clinical judgment when making decisions about complicated circumstances.” Olsen said. “This bill, on the other hand, limits these options by providers and even threatens, as you heard, felony charges. We heard stories from people that had to access what is viewed as abortion typically, after 24 weeks. [That] is usually very scary and often ends in very tragic circumstances. Why would we want to make accessing this healthcare even more burdensome?” 

Abortion access has been one of the top issues debated this legislative session after Roe v. Wade was overturned last year. Montana’s neighboring states like Idaho and North Dakota have already passed similar laws restricting abortion.

The bill passed the House of Representatives on a vote of 68-31 in March. It will now go back to the House, for members there to review amendments made in the Senate.