HELENA — House Republicans are pushing longshot constitutional changes aimed at restricting abortion, with the sponsor backing the measures arguing they will help the party at the polls.
Both proposed amendments would go to voters in 2012 if they clear the Legislature, which appears unlikely.
Proposed constitutional changes require support from a total of 100 of 150 House and Senate lawmakers — and Republicans fall four votes shy of being able to get it done on their own. In House votes on Monday afternoon, even a few Republicans didn't support the plans.
One of the proposals would state in the Montana Constitution there is no right to an abortion or its funding, while another would state in the Constitution that life begins at conception. Supporters argue both will help lawmakers end or curtail the practice, while opponents argue they undermine a woman's right to privacy.
Sponsor Wendy Warburton of Havre said during floor debate that abortion is the "biggest and most important issue of our time, perhaps of all time."
Democratic opponents countered it is a wedge issue that forces the government into the lives of adult Montanans who can make their own decisions.
Warburton assured fellow Republicans prior to floor votes that the ballot measures will help Republicans — beating back fears they could have the opposite effect. Many polls have shown Montana voters mixed on the issue of abortion.
Warburton said that more Republicans than Democrats consider the abortion issue, one way or the other, a top issue.
"These bills will drive our voters to the polls," she told Republicans.
But Warburton conceded it will take some Democrats voting yes in the Senate for her proposals to get the required 100 yes votes. Depending on Tuesday's scheduled House votes, perhaps as many as 10 Senate Democrats will be needed, she said.
"We will need some bipartisan votes to get on the ballot, maybe we will get a miracle and get on the ballot," Warburton said.