Montana reconsiders bill to place fetuses at legal odds with women
Lawmakers in Montana are set to again consider giving human rights to fetuses, taking up a controversial “fetal homicide” bill in the forthcoming session.
House Bill 104, sponsored by state Rep. Keith Regier (R), adds “unborn child” to statutes covering deliberate homicide, giving fetuses rights that are currently reserved only for living, breathing humans.
Abortion foes favor so-called “fetal homicide” bills because they enhance the rights of fetuses while creating a potentially adversarial legal relationship with the woman. Still, many states that have adopted similar statutes tempered them by exempting medical emergencies or lawful medical procedures like abortion — an example Montana is following.
A prior attempt to pass a similar law in Montana failed in 2011, even after the bill was amended to exclude fetal deaths stemming from abortion or medical emergency. It was vetoed by Gov. Brian Schweitzer (D), who has since left office. The current governor, Steve Bullock (D), campaigned with pro-choice groups and is expected to take similar action.
In vetoing the bill, Schweitzer warned that the fetal homicide provision could expose women’s medical records in a court proceeding, should prosecutors suspect her behavior — like smoking cigarettes or drinking alcohol — contributed to the death of a fetus. The state already considers it murder if a fetus that would have otherwise been viable outside the womb is killed through negligence or criminality.
A total of 38 states have fetal homicide laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Of them, 23 states’ laws apply to even the earliest stages of gestation. Montana’s latest fetal homicide bill would similarly apply throughout the entirety of a woman’s pregnancy.
A similar effort last year to recognize fetuses as “people” failed to earn enough petition signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot. Nationwide, 2012 saw 19 states enact 43 different restrictions on abortion services and reproductive rights — the second highest number in recent decades, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute.