HELENA — In a series of party-line votes, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday passed a slate of anti-abortion legislation that has already cleared the House.

House Bills 136, 140, 167 and 171 would restrict abortion and penalize medical providers in a variety of ways. Lawmakers in the House and Senate judiciary committees have heard testimony on the measures over the course of several weeks. 

The first bill, sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls, would largely prohibit abortions after 20 weeks unless a patient’s life is deemed to be at risk. The second, sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell, would require medical providers to offer an ultrasound to a patient seeking an abortion. HB 167, sponsored by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell, would create a ballot referendum for a measure that would punish medical providers for failing to provide life-saving care to a newborn — a measure opponents say is redundant with existing statute and intended to inflame political dialogue during the election cycle of 2022. Finally, HB 171, sponsored by Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence, would add layers of procedural and administrative steps for patients who seek medical abortions early in pregnancy, as well as require patient data to be collected and reported to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.

The committee heard several hours of emotional public testimony on the bills last week, including from many Montanans who have had abortions and parents affirming their decision to have children. Senators on Tuesday voiced a range of support and disdain for the bills when explaining their votes. 

“Again, this is an attempt to interfere in the decision of women, with their right to privacy, and their physician,” said Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, speaking about the bill to limit medical abortions early in pregnancy. “Contrary to what much of the testimony said, this is an extremely safe procedure. There is no reason for this bill to be passed and to go into effect.”

That bill, along with all the others, passed on a 7-4 vote.

Sands and other Democrats also raised concerns with the other bills, including the proposal to require the offering of an ultrasound, which does not make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

“So you’ve got a physician, according to this bill, who’s to tell a woman who has been raped and carrying a pregnancy as a result of that, that she can view the ultrasound and listen to the heartbeat … This is not a medically necessary procedure to be done. If it is done, it is done for other reasons, not to intimidate a woman into viewing something as a way to dissuade her from going through a procedure in an extremely difficult time.”

Speaking in favor of the proposals, Sen. Bob Brown, R-Thompson Falls, said he considered the bills from the perspective of father, and explained that his wife became pregnant with their first child before they were married.

“When I saw my first daughter born, it made a profound difference in my life. It changed the direction of my life,” Brown said. “And I can’t say that enough. For people and individuals who have, you know, maybe gotten themselves into a spot where they don’t [want to be], because certainly at that point in my life, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there … I now can’t imagine [where] I would be if we had made a different choice.”

Other Republicans said they would support the measures, even in the face of a high likelihood they will be challenged and possibly overturned in court. 

“I’m going to vote for them because that’s in my belief system,” said Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber. “But I don’t live under the illusion that they’re all going to be looked at with good graces of the court.”

Gov. Gianforte has generally voiced support for the anti-abortion measures under consideration in the Legislature. If signed, many of the bills are expected to face legal challenges.

The bills will now be scheduled for debate on the Senate floor. 

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Mara writes about health and human services stories happening in local communities, the Montana statehouse and the court system. She also produces the Shared State podcast in collaboration with MTPR and YPR. Before joining Montana Free Press, Mara worked in podcast and radio production at Slate and WNYC. She was born and raised in Helena, MT and graduated from Seattle University in 2016.