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Abortion advocates submit ballot issue affirming right to terminate pregnancy in Montana

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Abortion advocates submit ballot issue affirming right to terminate pregnancy in Montana

Nov 27, 2023 | 6:30 pm ET
By Nicole Girten
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Abortion advocates submit ballot issue affirming right to terminate pregnancy in Montana
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Abortion advocates submit ballot issue affirming right to terminate pregnancy in Montana

Voters may have the opportunity to affirm the right to an abortion in the Montana Constitution in 2024.

Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana submitted a ballot initiative last week to put before the voters the option to add the right for someone to make decisions about their pregnancy, including abortion, as a constitutional right in Montana.

If this ballot initiative makes it before voters in 2024, the Montana Constitution would get a new section explicitly outlining the right to an abortion, as opposed to relying on the court’s interpretation of the state’s right to privacy in the constitution.

“This constitutional amendment prohibits the government from denying or burdening the right to abortion before fetal viability,” the submitted language reads.

The right to an abortion is already protected in Montana under the state Supreme Court decision Armstrong vs. State, which was upheld earlier this year, under the court’s interpretation of the right to privacy in the constitution.

Spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana Christopher Coburn said in an interview if this ballot initiative were to pass, the right to abortion access would not rely on such interpretation and would be spelled out as a Constitutional right on its own.

“Courts wouldn’t have to interpret what the constitution might mean, because it would be spelled out in the constitution,” Coburn said.

Other states have been taking action on abortion rights in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court Dobbs decision, which overturned federal protections for abortion. Last year Kansas rejected a constitutional amendment restricting abortion, and Ohio more recently enshrined abortion rights into their constitution.

More than a dozen pieces of anti-abortion legislation were introduced in the 2023 legislative session led by a Republican supermajority, with many signed into law and then promptly halted by the courts through a preliminary injunction. Likewise, a bill to codify abortion rights into statute failed to make it out of committee.

Coburn said Montana lawmakers are “out of step” with the electorate on this issue.

“State lawmakers are continually trying to take away rights. The time feels right for us to protect them,” Coburn said.

A failed ballot initiative in the 2022 statewide election would have required medical intervention for “born alive infants,” claiming this would save lives from “late term abortions.” The medical community in the state pushed back on the measure, seen as a referendum on abortion, saying pregnancies in the third term are wanted and medical intervention in some cases would not change a fatal outcome.

Although there is a sense of momentum with other states taking action to codify abortion rights, Coburn said the inspiration for this initiative is separate from what the rest of the country is doing on this issue.

“Regardless of what’s happening in other states, Montanans deserve to have their rights to reproductive health care, including abortion, secured,” Coburn said.

To get on the ballot, after a legal review by the Attorney General’s office, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana will have to gather signatures from at least 10% of Montanans eligible to vote, with that number including 10% of the eligible voters in two fifths of legislative districts.

Coburn said the nonprofit organization is working with volunteers across the state to gain access to the ballot.

“We have an entire team of folks who’s thinking about how we deeply engage with folks across the entire state, to learn more about their perspectives, to chat with them about what this ballot initiative would mean, and to ultimately put the decisions into their hands,” he said.