Missoula abortion rights rally counters ‘fetal heartbeat’ legislation as unconstitutional

Posted at 2:25 PM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 18:23:13-04
Missoulians rally at the Missoula County Courthouse on Tuesday to protest anti-abortion laws passed in other states and to encourage voters to use their power to prevent similar legislation in Montana. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Mari Hall – Missoula Current

Abortion rights activists rallied outside the Missoula County Courthouse during the noon hour Tuesday to protest anti-abortion laws enacted by other states, most recently Alabama and Georgia.

The bills challenge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion nationwide.

“We keep seeing those unconstitutional laws being passed because people want to challenge the right to reproductive health care in Roe v. Wade,” Democratic State Rep. Kim Dudik said in an interview at the rally. “Everyone’s concerned, and this (rally) was a way to bring people together to talk about the issue, to talk about the steps going forward, and how we can empower citizens to enforce and protect their rights.”

Organized by local organizations and the Montana Democratic Party, the rally came in the wake of so-called “fetal heartbeat” laws passed by state legislatures, including Alabama’s law banning abortion at every phase of pregnancy, except if the mother’s life is threatened. That law makes abortion a felony in Alabama, and would jail physicians who perform abortions.

Democratic State Rep. Tom Winter said that bills restricting reproductive health care are not new in the United States, but the recent measures are the most restrictive in decades.

“Barriers to access to the full range of reproductive health care are everywhere,” Winter said. “They’re not just in Alabama, they’re not just in Missouri, they’re not in Ohio, they’re here in Montana too. There are women who have to drive 180 miles to see their nearest abortion provider.”

Dudik, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Montana attorney general, explained that both the U.S. Constitution and the Montana Constitution explicitly protect citizens’ rights to privacy, which includes a woman’s reproductive health decisions.

During the 2019 Montana Legislature, three bills passed and went to Gov. Steve Bullock’s desk that would have given personhood status to an embryo. Another would have required physicians to offer ultrasounds before an abortion.

Bullock vetoed all three bills.

“It’s a constitutional right,” Dudik said. “The Legislature cannot violate constitutional rights. Even that being the case, they still passed these unconstitutional bills, and that’s why the governor vetoes them.”

Dudik said it’s easy to call the recent legislation “a war on women,” but having a state and federal government that respects privacy and reproductive rights is important to everyone. She encourages citizens to use their vote and be part of the conversation.

“That is really a Montana value that people need to not be afraid of talking about it and have the courage to come together and talk to other people about it and come to common ground,” she said. “It’s the only way to move our state forward if we start working together and finding common ground on issues like this.”

Tuesday’s rally in Missoula was among rallies scheduled for noon in almost all 50 states, organized by more than 50 groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and NARAL Pro-Choice America.