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Bill aims to exempt abortion from Montana's privacy protections

Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, presents Senate Bill 154 the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 17, 2023. The bill would explicitly specify that abortion is not protected under Montana's right to privacy.
Shaylee Ragar
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Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, presents Senate Bill 154 the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 17, 2023. The bill would explicitly specify that abortion is not protected under Montana's right to privacy.

A Republican lawmaker is seeking to add a caveat to the state’s constitutional right to privacy. The language would say that the right does not protect access to abortion. This is the first major abortion-related legislative policy in Montana since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Senate Bill 154 asks state courts to reverse a more than two-decades old legal precedent. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Keith Regier, said that it’s time for that to happen.

“A right to privacy should not apply to an abortion anymore than a right to privacy applying to child abuse or abusing a spouse. Those acts include another person,” he said.

A Montana Supreme Court decision, known as the Armstrong precedent, has protected access to pre-viability abortion since 1999. It found that the state does not have a compelling state interest to restrict access to abortion.

Several residents, religious leaders and national organizations that advocate to restrict access to abortion spoke in support. While the bill itself does not ban abortion or amend the Constitution, it could create an avenue for lawmakers to do so.

Jeff Laszloffy of the Montana Family Foundation said that Montana should follow suit after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned established court protections for abortion nationally in the Dobbs decision.

“The bill before corrects the mistake of the Montana Supreme Court,” Laszloffy said.

Attorneys who spoke in opposition of the bill say that adding the Legislature’s interpretation of the state’s bill of rights into law is an overreach and that power lies with the courts. A legal note from legislative staff says that the bill raises potential conformity issues with the requirements of the Montana Constitution.

Providers of abortion services and several residents also spoke in opposition, saying that people should be able to make health care decisions without government intrusion.

Robyn Morrison with the League of Women Voters said that public policy should affirm the right to privacy.

“Taking away the right of bodily autonomy, which includes the freedom to make our most personal, intimate, health care choices is one of the most egregious invasions,” she said.

Republicans are planning to bring several other proposals aimed at restricting abortion, and Gov. Greg Gianforte has supported such legislation in the past. Montana Democrats plan to introduce bills that would codify the right to abortion, make contraception more accessible and standardize sex education.

Shaylee began covering state government and politics for Montana Public Radio in August 2020. Originally from Belgrade, Montana, she graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program and previously worked as a reporter for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and UM’s Legislative News Service. Please share tips, questions and concerns by emailing shaylee.ragar@mso.umt.edu.