activists are celebrating the latest antiabortion bill to wind its way
through a state Legislature — this time in Montana. The bill seeks to
challenge the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized
But before they party hearty, a quick check of state law is in order. It reveals that the likelihood of a constitutional “personhood” amendment to give fertilized eggs civil rights is as flat as stale champagne.
The bill in Montana is similar in aim to Colorado’s Amendment 48,
which was shellacked by a 3-to-1 margin at the ballot box. But
Montana’s lawmakers must first pass the bill with 100 votes in order to
move it to the state ballot, where voters will decide whether to amend
the state Constitution to say that the “protection of unborn human life
is a compelling state interest.”
State “personhood” backers hope to push their fight back to the U.S.
Supreme Court under the guise of giving zygotes 14th Amendment
protections that would criminalize abortion. Opponents counter that
contraception, in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research would be
threatened, and miscarriages could be prosecuted if legal recognition
of fertilized eggs were upheld.
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However, the Montana Senate racked up just 28 “aye” votes, actually
losing one vote and gaining three more “no” votes in the bill’s final
tally. It goes next to the House, which is evenly divided between
Democrats and Republicans.
The Missoulian notes, in a recent story citing a Planned
Parenthood spokesperson, that “there are 46 solidly pro-choice
representatives in the House, leaving only 54 to vote in favor …”
28 + 54 = far short of the 100 vote minimum necessary to pass the antiabortion measure to the voters.
Should the question go before the voters, the premise faces a very
tough public-perception hurdle. An Oct. 2008 MSU-Billings poll reports 53 percent of Montanans support abortion rights (pdf), with 34 percent opposing, 11 percent characterized as “neither/depends” and 1 percent undecided.
A similar bill before the North Dakota state Senate also faces an uncertain future.