HELENA — In a series of early-morning votes Thursday, a Republican-controlled committee at the Montana Legislature advanced five bills that would restrict or further regulate abortion and transgender athletes in the state.
The four abortion bills passed on 12-7, party-line votes by the House Judiciary Committee, with Republicans in favor; one Republican, Rep. Mallerie Stromswold of Billings, opposed the transgender-athlete bill.
The measures now head to the Montana House floor, where they’re expected to pass.
Democrats argued in vain that some of the bills are unconstitutional and would be struck down by courts. They also said the bill preventing transgender athletes from taking part in some sports would discourage businesses from coming to Montana and possibly jeopardize federal education funding.
“This bill puts our economy at risk and opens us up to costly litigation,” said Rep. Ed Stafman, D-Bozeman. “The only other state with such a law, Idaho, has seen its law declared unconstitutional by a federal court.
“And a similar law was estimated to cost North Carolina $3.76 billion, before they repealed it.
A Republican lawmaker on the committee said the warnings of lawsuits and unconstitutionality are overblown, and just opinions.
“The constitutionality of something is subjective until it gets in front of a Supreme Court, until the ruling is, yes, in point of fact, this either constitutional or unconstitutional,” said Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell. “All we can do is what we assert is correct, because all of us are interpreters of the constitution as well.”
The panel also delayed until Friday action on another bill that would prohibit medical procedures and treatment for transgender youths in Montana.
The bills approved by the committee Thursday include:
House Bill 136, which essentially bans all abortions in Montana after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Sponsored by Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, R-Great Falls.
HB171, which greatly restricts the distribution of abortion-inducing drugs. It requires the drugs to be dispensed only in-person, requires the woman seeking the drug to sign several times on a consent form a day before getting the drug, and bans distribution of the drugs on college campuses and schools in Montana. Sponsored by Rep. Sharon Greef, R-Florence.
HB140, which requires that women seeking an abortion be given the opportunity to see an ultrasound and hear the heartbeat of the fetus. Sponsored by Rep. Amy Regier, R-Kalispell.
HB167, which would place before Montana voters in November 2022 a referendum, asking them to approve a law that says any fetus “born alive,” including during an abortion, is a legal person. Sponsored by Rep. Matt Regier, R-Kalispell
HB112, which essentially bans transgender athletes from participating on a sports team, at a Montana school or college, that does not align with their sex at birth. Sponsored by Rep. John Fuller, R-Whitefish.
The early-morning votes occurred after most Republican committee members met in a closed meeting, shortly after the committee had convened at 7 a.m.
Rep. Barry Usher, R-Billings, said the closure was legal because it didn’t constitute a quorum of the committee, since all Republican members didn’t attend. Montana law says any meeting of a public body must be open to the public, if a quorum is present.