Jonathon Ambarian

HELENA (KPAX) — Two abortion-related bills have only one more step to go before reaching Gov. Greg Gianforte’s desk, after they passed preliminary votes on the Senate floor Thursday.

During the debate, lawmakers acknowledged there’s been a lot of discussion on abortion throughout the session.

Senators first endorsed House Bill 721, sponsored by House Speaker Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, on a 31-19 vote. The bill would prohibit a specific type of abortion that it calls “dismemberment abortion,” except in case of a medical emergency that occurs prior to fetal viability.

HB 721 deals with a procedure called “dilation and evacuation,” a form of surgical abortion in which a fetus is removed using forceps or similar tools. It is a typical form of abortion during the second trimester of pregnancy – after 12 weeks.

The bill includes explanatory clauses describing the procedure as using tools to “slide, crush, or grasp a portion of an unborn human being's body,” and referring to it as “a barbaric practice.” It would establish a felony charge for anyone who performs that type of abortion and require suspending a physician or physician assistant’s medical license for at least a year.

Sen. Steve Hinebauch, R-Wibaux, carried the bill on the Senate floor. He said the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision had recognized states have legitimate interests in regulating abortion.

“This bill upholds those legitimate state interests by prohibiting an unjust and inhumane abortion procedure,” he said. “House Bill 721 is not a bill to prohibit all abortions – it's a bill that would prohibit one type of abortion and one type only.”

Opponents of the bill argued it would block the safest and most commonly perfomed type of abortion at that stage of pregnancy – having a greater effect on those for whom travel or finances are an obstacle to getting an abortion earlier. They objected what they called “inflammatory language” in the bill.

“The reality is that this bill is just trying to whittle away at constitutionally protected medical care in Montana, and Dobbs doesn't change that,” said Sen. Jen Gross, D-Billings.

The Senate also endorsed House Bill 786, sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, on a 30-20 vote. That bill would require health care providers who prescribe someone an abortion medication to keep a report of any “adverse side effects” that patient experiences. The bill says the report would not include “any information that would identify any individual involved with the abortion.”

Sen. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, read off reports of serious side effects in people who have taken the medication.

“This has become an issue that we need to keep track of, and that's what this bill is focused on,” she said.

Opponents said complications from medication abortion are rare, and the bill is too intrusive.

“We don't demand state-mandated complications reporting for other surgeries or other procedures,” said Sen. Mary Ann Dunwell, D-Helena.

Both bills are set for final votes in the Senate on Friday. If they pass, they will be transmitted to the governor.