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Gianforte supports special legislative session to restrict abortions if Roe v. Wade is overturned

 The House chamber at the Montana Legislature during the 2019 session.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio/file photo
The House chamber at the Montana Legislature during the 2019 session.

Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte says he’s willing to call a special legislative session on abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court rules to overturn Roe v. Wade.

During an interview with radio station KGVO last week, a listener asked Gianforte whether he would call lawmakers back to Helena to work on abortion policy.

“I would be happy to call a special session if we have a path that is defensible in the courts here in Montana and we have a consensus in the Legislature," Gianforte said. "Every life has to be protected."

The state’s next regular legislative session is set to begin January 2023.

A draft opinion leaked from the U.S. Supreme Court indicates a majority of justices are ready to overturn the 50-year-old precedent that protects access to abortion nationwide. That would leave it up to individual states or Congress to decide how to regulate abortion care.

Some states have trigger laws that will ban abortion automatically if Roe is overturned. But Montana has a state constitutional right to privacy that courts have said protects access to abortion, a ruling known as the Armstrong precedent.

State Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway, a Republican who has championed anti-abortion legislation, says that precedent is a roadblock even in a post-Roe world, but that won’t stop her from pushing for a full ban.

“I will fight for this every day of my life,” she said.

 Americans' views of abortion, 1995-2022
Pew Research Center
Americans' views of abortion, 1995-2022

Republicans have two main options if they move to ban abortion in Montana —they can enact a law that will most likely be challenged under Armstrong, or they can push for a constitutional referendum to change the state’s bill of rights, which would then have to go before voters.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has also said she would call a special session if Roe v. Wade is overturned. A special legislative session in Montana costs roughly $100,000 the first day it convenes, and $50,000 each subsequent day.

In a statement, Senate President Mark Blasdel and House Majority Leader Sue Vinton said legislative Republicans are "committed to proceeding strategically" to restrict access to abortion. They said all eyes should be on the Montana court system right now.

A lawsuit challenging four new anti-abortion laws is working its way through a Montana court. A judge ordered a temporary block on the laws until the case gets an official ruling. Attorney General Austin Knudsen is defending the state in the suit, and used the opportunity to ask the court to overturn Armstrong.

House Minority Leader Kim Abbott, a Democrat from Helena, said her caucus will fight further restrictions on abortion and called the idea of a special session extreme.

“We know that Montanans value the Constitution, and we know specifically they value the right to privacy," Abbott said.

According to Pew Research Center, the majority of Americans support access to abortion in most cases.

A final ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that could overturn Roe is expected in June.

Copyright 2022 Montana Public Radio. To see more, visit Montana Public Radio.

Shaylee is a UM Journalism School student. She reports and helps produce Montana Evening News on MTPR.