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Abortion foes see opportunity in GOP majority

 


UM School of Journalism

HELENA — In a soft and affable voice, Republican Rep. Pat Ingraham introduced herself and said she represented the people of Sanders County. Those words were the last the entire room would agree on in an emotional two-hour hearing Friday on her bill to require that women have an ultrasound before they get an abortion.

Last week marked 38 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a right to an abortion. But as the tears, outrage and gavel-slamming that attended Ingraham's House Bill 280 showed, the issue remains one of the most polarizing that legislators face.

While the raw emotion surrounding abortion has not subsided, Gregg Trude, state director of Montana Right to Life, sees the overwhelming conservative majority in the Legislature as his best opportunity in a decade to further the group's cause.

Trude is confident that Ingraham's bill and three other abortion-related bills will eventually land on Gov. Brian Schweitzer's desk this session. Senate Bill 97 would require girls under the age of 16 to notify their parents before getting abortions; Senate Bill 176 would forbid insurance companies that cover abortions from writing policies in Montana under new federal health care laws; and House Bill 167 would criminalize involvement in the death of an unborn child.

Of those, Trude predicts Schweitzer will sign the unborn child bill and the insurance bill.

Schweitzer declined to comment on pending legislation, but he did warn lawmakers last week in his State of the State address against sending him divisive bills that do not create jobs. He has also been an outspoken advocate of a woman's right to choose.

House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, said that although social issues are not his party's focus this session, he thinks the parental notification measure will get the most support from its members.

"I think there is a strong argument for it," Milburn said. "You have to notify parents if a child gets an aspirin in school."

A similar law, however, was struck down by the Montana Supreme Court in 1999 on the grounds that it did not enhance the health or safety of minors or treat all pregnant minors equally.

The difference between SB 97 and current law is that the age at which parental notification is no longer required would be lowered from 18 to 16. The bill also provides judges with more stringent criteria to weigh in deciding whether a specific minor can have an abortion without telling her parents.

So far there are nine abortion bills and the unborn child bill. Staunch abortion-rights lawmakers like Rep. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, concede that the bills have a golden ticket to Schweitzer's desk.

"Every one of them will go through this session," Driscoll predicted after the hearing on the ultrasound bill. "Hopefully, the governor will get out his veto pen and veto every one of them."

Abortion-rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Montana, agree. They hope Schweitzer will honor his past stance on the issue.

"We expect that when he is presented with those decisions that he will stand true to the principles of choice," said the ACLU's Niki Zupanic.

HB 167, the unborn child bill, has already cleared the Senate, though abortion-rights advocates warned that it could undermine the federal rule that abortions are legal in cases where a fetus cannot survive on its own outside the womb.

Trude and Republicans say the unborn child bill is in no way aimed at making abortions illegal. Its sole purpose, they say, is to allow prosecutors to charge people who attack a pregnant woman and thus end the pregnancy.

During the floor debate, Driscoll described the bill as the beginning of the 2011 attack on a woman's right to choose. She added later, however, that she's not sure Schweitzer will see it the same way.

Some anti-abortion lawmakers aren't willing to leave the decisions to Schweitzer. They hope to put the questions directly to voters.

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, is sponsoring two referendums to amend the Montana Constitution. One would add a clause stating that Montanans have no specific right to abortion, and the other would say a person's life and rights begin at conception. A draft bill is in place to put the parental notification measure on the ballot, too.

But constitutional referendums require at least 100 votes in the Legislature. Both Trude and Milburn said Warburton's referendums could have a hard time reaching that.

Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, doesn't see the measures succeeding, even if they do make the ballot. He said he believes most Montanans favor abortion rights. And while he said he and his family live their lives conservatively, he is wary of giving government the power to decide if a woman can get an abortion. He said he'd rather see that decision made by a woman in consultation with her family and her church.

He said he doubts the governor would sign any of the strict anti-abortion bills, and without the votes to override a veto, the debate serves only to highlight the issue.

Still, Zinke is a co-sponsor of the unborn child measure, an indication that it may have the broadest support.

Ingraham's ultrasound bill, however, stands at the center of the debate. Zupanic and others see it as an attempt to make a hard decision harder, to place government between a woman and her doctor.

Trude and his group see it as a way to show a woman exactly what is at stake.

And so the debate goes on. No matter what happens in the Legislature, or under the governor's desk lamp, or even at the polls, the ultimate legal decision over abortion is sure to rest where it did 38 years ago – in the courts.

(Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at [email protected])

HELENA — In a soft and affable voice, Republican Rep. Pat Ingraham introduced herself and said she represented the people of Sanders County. Those words were the last the entire room would agree on in an emotional two-hour hearing Friday on her bill to require that women have an ultrasound before they get an abortion.

Last week marked 38 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a woman has a right to an abortion. But as the tears, outrage and gavel-slamming that attended Ingraham's House Bill 280 showed, the issue remains one of the most polarizing that legislators face.

Conservative majority will help pro-life cause

While the raw emotion surrounding abortion has not subsided, Gregg Trude, state director of Montana Right to Life, sees the overwhelming conservative majority in the Legislature as his best opportunity in a decade to further the group's cause.

Trude is confident that Ingraham's bill and three other abortion-related bills will eventually land on Gov. Brian Schweitzer's desk this session. Senate Bill 97 would require girls under the age of 16 to notify their parents before getting abortions; Senate Bill 176 would forbid insurance companies that cover abortions from writing policies in Montana under new federal health care laws; and House Bill 167 would criminalize involvement in the death of an unborn child.

Schweitzer may sign some bills

Of those, Trude predicts Schweitzer will sign the unborn child bill and the insurance bill.

Schweitzer declined to comment on pending legislation, but he did warn lawmakers last week in his State of the State address against sending him divisive bills that do not create jobs. He has also been an outspoken advocate of a woman's right to choose.

House Speaker Mike Milburn, R-Cascade, said that although social issues are not his party's focus this session, he thinks the parental notification measure will get the most support from its members.

Parent approval needed for asprin

"I think there is a strong argument for it," Milburn said. "You have to notify parents if a child gets an aspirin in school."

A similar law, however, was struck down by the Montana Supreme Court in 1999 on the grounds that it did not enhance the health or safety of minors or treat all pregnant minors equally.

The difference between SB 97 and current law is that the age at which parental notification is no longer required would be lowered from 18 to 16. The bill also provides judges with more stringent criteria to weigh in deciding whether a specific minor can have an abortion without telling her parents.

So far there are nine abortion bills and the unborn child bill. Staunch abortion-rights lawmakers like Rep. Robyn Driscoll, D-Billings, concede that the bills have a golden ticket to Schweitzer's desk.

Pro-choice folks hope governor's veto pen is ready

"Every one of them will go through this session," Driscoll predicted after the hearing on the ultrasound bill. "Hopefully, the governor will get out his veto pen and veto every one of them."

Abortion-rights groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood of Montana, agree. They hope Schweitzer will honor his past stance on the issue.

"We expect that when he is presented with those decisions that he will stand true to the principles of choice," said the ACLU's Niki Zupanic.

HB 167, the unborn child bill, has already cleared the Senate, though abortion-rights advocates warned that it could undermine the federal rule that abortions are legal in cases where a fetus cannot survive on its own outside the womb.

Trude and Republicans say the unborn child bill is in no way aimed at making abortions illegal. Its sole purpose, they say, is to allow prosecutors to charge people who attack a pregnant woman and thus end the pregnancy.

During the floor debate, Driscoll described the bill as the beginning of the 2011 attack on a woman's right to choose. She added later, however, that she's not sure Schweitzer will see it the same way.

Some anti-abortion lawmakers aren't willing to leave the decisions to Schweitzer. They hope to put the questions directly to voters.

Warburton proposals seen as longshots

Rep. Wendy Warburton, R-Havre, is sponsoring two referendums to amend the Montana Constitution. One would add a clause stating that Montanans have no specific right to abortion, and the other would say a person's life and rights begin at conception. A draft bill is in place to put the parental notification measure on the ballot, too.

But constitutional referendums require at least 100 votes in the Legislature. Both Trude and Milburn said Warburton's referendums could have a hard time reaching that.

Sen. Ryan Zinke, R-Whitefish, doesn't see the measures succeeding, even if they do make the ballot. He said he believes most Montanans favor abortion rights. And while he said he and his family live their lives conservatively, he is wary of giving government the power to decide if a woman can get an abortion. He said he'd rather see that decision made by a woman in consultation with her family and her church.

He said he doubts the governor would sign any of the strict anti-abortion bills, and without the votes to override a veto, the debate serves only to highlight the issue.

Still, Zinke is a co-sponsor of the unborn child measure, an indication that it may have the broadest support.

Ultrasound bill is controversial

Ingraham's ultrasound bill, however, stands at the center of the debate. Zupanic and others see it as an attempt to make a hard decision harder, to place government between a woman and her doctor.

Trude and his group see it as a way to show a woman exactly what is at stake.

And so the debate goes on. No matter what happens in the Legislature, or under the governor's desk lamp, or even at the polls, the ultimate legal decision over abortion is sure to rest where it did 38 years ago – in the courts.

(Reporter Cody Bloomsburg can be reached at 208-816-0809 or by e-mail at [email protected])

 

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