Caven Wade

HELENA (UM Legislative News Service) -- The 68th Montana Legislature is halfway through, with battles over the budget now taking center stage.

But, the Legislature is also considering a groundbreaking number of social issue bills, including on controversial topics like transgender rights, access to abortion and what responsibilities medical professionals have, or don’t have, in providing care in those cases. 

House Bill 303, which would allow doctors to object to providing services that go against their beliefs, like gender affirming care or abortion services, passed the House 63-33 and now moves to the Senate for debate. Senate Bill 154, which would exclude abortion from the right to privacy in Montana, passed the Senate 28-21 and will now be up for debate in the House.

Leaders in the Republican caucus say they are concerned with outside pressures that could affect children in the state -- especially surrounding gender identity. 

“Kids need to be kids. Our children should be focused on the big sporting events and how to pass the algebra class.They should not be worried about how to deal with them, or the pressures of the left to subtly or even overtly be sexualized,” Speaker of the House Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, said.

Another bill in this vein is House Bill 349, which would prohibit minors from attending drag shows. It is now in the Senate after passing the House 61-37.

Shawn Reagor works for the Human Rights Network of Montana and has spoken out in opposition against such bills. He says these bills are often “adopted” from other states that have passed similar legislation. He also says this legislation has more impact on Montanans beyond preventing them from accessing the medical services they need.

“It's not just attacking the ability to have drag shows. It's putting out a message that LGBT people should not be around children or something that is an essential part of our culture is unacceptable or is becoming -- or they're branding it, for example, as harmful when the reality is we know that that's just not the truth,” Reagor said. “So as part of that fallout and the impact of that rhetoric is that, you know, we see an increase in rates of discrimination. We see an increase in harmful language, we see an increase in violence and anti-LGBT rhetoric.”

Jessi Bennion, a professor of political science at Montana State University and Carroll College, said the Republican supermajority and the number of social bills moving through the Capitol this session go hand in hand.

She said there’s a trend of anti-trans and other “morality” legislation sweeping the nation right now and it’s likely that Republican lawmakers have adopted many of these bills from other states like Arizona