HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Senate on Friday advanced a proposal seeking to extend protections to so-called "pain-capable" fetuses.
If approved, Montana would join more than a dozen states adopting laws protecting pain-capable fetuses.
The measure is one of a pair of anti-abortion bills that continued moving through the Montana Legislature. Earlier in the week, a House committee further advanced a bill that would effectively ban all abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy by requiring doctors to save a fetus.
Opponents decried both measures as attacks on a woman's right to choose an abortion.
Proponents of both bills acknowledged the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that affirmed abortion rights, but they argued that federal law allows states to carve out their own abortion rules.
Republican Sen. Keith Regier of Kalispell said it is "humane and good policy" for the state to ban abortions beyond the 20th month of pregnancy because fetuses in that stage of development are capable of feeling pain. The Republican-controlled state Senate agreed, advancing his bill on a 33-17 vote that was mostly along party lines.
"The need for this bill is brought by the increased scientific evidence that abortion is painful for the unborn," Regier told his fellow lawmakers. "I could graphically explain what happens to a fetus during an abortion, especially during a late-term abortion, but in the interest of good taste I won't."
In a sometimes emotional speech, Sen. Jen Gross, a field operations manager for Planned Parenthood, recounted the ordeal of her mother who chose to continue a high-risk pregnancy despite risks to her own life.
"My mother was full term when her pregnancy ended tragically and without the intervention of any doctor - or legislator," Gross said. "This bill is intended to establish a legal framework that undermines our constitutional right to privacy and seeks to ban a legal medical procedure in Montana."
A second Montana bill is far more unusual, according to some abortion-rights groups, because it would take aim at doctors who perform abortions. The proposal would prohibit abortions on potentially viable fetuses and subject doctors to criminal charges if they fail to take steps to try and save the life of the child.
"The challenges to a woman's right to reproductive choice have always been under attack since Roe. Every session there has been some version of an abortion bill. And the different attacks flow through all of the states," said Democratic Sen. Diane Sands of Missoula, who ran an illegal abortion referral service in the 1960s.
Both measures would face scrutiny — if not certain veto — from Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat who favors abortion rights.