BILLINGS – Legislative Referendum 131 was failing Wednesday morning, but the vote remained close.
According to the Montana Office of the Secretary of State, there were 213,814 no votes - or 52 percent - for the measure as of about 5:25 a.m. with 67 percent of precincts reporting. There were 194,312 yes votes.
The law was put on the midterm ballot by lawmakers during the 2022 legislative session.
The measure seeks to make any infant born breathing or with a heartbeat a legal person.
A doctor would then be required to use all lifesaving measures.
Hundreds in the medical community opposed the measure, saying in a signed ad it could have unintended consequences for "newborns for whom no amount of medical care will save, and may instead prolong suffering."
“It’s going to prevent those families from having some peaceful moments with their child, ya know with the only moments that they have,” said Dr. Timothy Mitchell, a maternal fetal medicine specialist with Community Physicians Group.
The referendum includes penalties for health care providers, which could be felony charges, up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine for failing to comply.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Matt Regier, said the bill is straightforward and wouldn’t affect comfort care.
"To me, this is the most purest form of democracy is letting the people in Montana decide how big an issue protecting born-alive infants is,” said Regier of Kalispell.
Supporters of the measure say it's meant to protect babies outside the womb after a failed abortion, and prevents the killing of any newborn. That is already illegal in Montana.