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Anti-abortion bills in Montana Legislature spark fiery debate over how to talk about abortion

 Montana Capitol.
Shaylee Ragar
Montana Public Radio
Montana Capitol

Democratic Montana lawmakers walked out of committee in protest on Tuesday during debate over proposed restrictions on abortion access.

In the last two days, state lawmakers have debated six anti-abortion bills, but they can’t agree on how to talk about it. Fiery debate over descriptions of abortion has derailed hearings over policy.

Sen. Jen Gross, a Democrat from Billings, spent much of Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary hearing objecting to testimony she says was unnecessarily graphic and inflammatory – like the use of the word 'barbaric" to describe abortion.

Then, after a senator asked about the relationship between abortion and satanism, Gross argued with the committee’s chair, Republican Sen. Keith Reiger from Kalispell, about that line of questioning being allowed.

"I don’t understand how satanism is relevant to this bill or this discussion today," Gross said.

In response, Reiger said, "Let’s find out."

Gross then left the committee and her Democratic colleagues followed her out.

Regier said it’s the responsibility of legislators to hear all testimony.

“We get a lot of opinions," he said. "That’s what this [is] all about here in the Legislature – a lot of opinions. That’s what bills are."

The debate centered around House Bill 721, which would ban an abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation, most commonly used to terminate a pregnancy in the second trimester. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Matt Regier, is Sen. Regier’s son.

After the hearing ended, Minority Leader Pat Flowers requested a recess so lawmakers could hash out the disagreement over decorum. In Regier’s private office outside of the committee room, several members debated how to proceed without resolution.

Democrats argued that it’s inappropriate to demonize legal abortion procedures and those who access them.

Republicans say it’s their responsibility to hear constituents opinions’ on the merits of proposed legislation. With a supermajority in the Legislature and holding all committee chair positions, Republicans get the final say.

In addition to HB 721, the Senate Judiciary also heard two proposals to ban abortion at 24 weeks and require reporting of bad patient outcomes after medication abortions. Those bills have already advanced out of the House and are now working their way through the Senate.

Three new abortion-related bills were heard in House committees Monday. They would prohibit public funds from going to abortion, except in cases of rape, incest, or health emergency; create requirements for health care providers when disposing of fetal remains, and establish funding for counseling for patients who obtain abortions.

Copyright 2023 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.