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Republicans on House panel push through abortion, transgender bills

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Posted at 9:15 AM, Jan 21, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-21 12:11:31-05

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 party-line, 12-7 votes by the House Judiciary Committee, with Republicans in favor; one Republican opposed the transgender-athlete bill.

The measures now head to the Montana House floor, where they’re expected to pass.

The bills approved 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 panel delayed action on another transgender bill, which would prohibit medical procedures and other medical actions on transgender youths in Montana. The committee may act later Thursday on HB113.

The early-morning votes occurred after most Republican committee members met in a closed meeting, shortly after the committee had convened the meeting 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.

Democrats on the panel argued in vain against the bills, sometimes saying they ran afoul of federal law and the state and federal constitutions.

Rep. Rob Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, said it’s illegal to discriminate based on someone’s gender identity, and that if lawmakers pass HB112, they’re violating the constitution and risking Montana losing all federal education funding.

But Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said claims of a bill being unconstitutional are mere opinions, and that the only real test is how a court decides the issue.