Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a 20-week abortion ban and two other anti-abortion bills into law on Monday, adding to the slew of such measures advanced by Republican state lawmakers as the Biden administration seeks to unwind restrictions on the procedure.
“Today we’re taking action to protect the most vulnerable amongst us, the unborn – we are celebrating life,” the Republican said at the bill signing Monday, adding that he was “proud to sign three bills that will protect the lives of the unborn.”
The first bill, the Montana Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, would ban abortion at 20 weeks based on the scientifically disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point in development. According to an advocacy memo posted by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, an industry group with over 60,000 members, fetuses are not capable of feeling pain until at least 24 weeks gestation.
The measure also allows for legal action against doctors who provide abortions past 20 weeks, and makes exceptions for abortions “necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother” but not for rape or incest. The 20-week ban may soon face legal challenges in light of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion nationwide prior to viability, which can occur at around 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Gianforte followed Oklahoma Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signing a near-total abortion ban and two other abortion restrictions into law earlier on Monday, sending a sweeping message that the state-level fight over access to the procedure is far from over. Republican-controlled states have advanced a wave of anti-abortion bills this year consistent with the trend under the Trump presidency, while the Biden administration has sought to expand abortion protections, namely by reversing Trump-era restrictions.
Montana state Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, who sponsored the 20-week ban, said Monday that she was confident that had the Supreme Court justices who decided Roe had modern medical “knowledge and proven science before them, they would have made a different decision.”
“I feel it is time that laws catch up with the science of the 21st century,” she added. “It is unethical to intentionally harm the innocence of an immature human being.”
Gianforte, who had called for the state legislature to pass the 20 week ban during his State of the State address earlier this year, signed two other bills on Monday. One of them, HB 140, requires abortion providers to offer abortion seekers the option to view their ultrasound images and hear fetal heartbeats. There are exceptions for procedures deemed life-saving, ectopic pregnancies, and when a pregnant woman’s health is put at risk.
The other, HB 171, requires that the drugs used in medication abortions, a type of abortion effective until about 10 weeks in pregnancy, “may be provided only by a qualified medical practitioner,” and must follow a set of procedures laid out in the bill. It comes on the heels of the Food and Drug Administration’s move earlier this month removing a requirement during the Covid-19 pandemic that one of the drugs involved in medication abortion be dispensed in person.
Martha Stahl, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana, said the bills would impact people in rural areas, with low incomes, and facing barriers to travel, characterizing the combined effect of restricting abortion both early and later in pregnancy as “sort of squeezing both ends.”
“Looking at those together, I think the impact is sort of multiplied, right,” Stahl said. “Because if you’re making it harder for folks to have abortion earlier in pregnancy, and then you’re making it harder on that same group of people who maybe can’t travel, you know, who have other family obligations, et cetera, those are the folks who are really getting impacted by this legislation together.”