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Montana voters opposed a midterm ballot measure imposing criminal charges on medical professionals failing to take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life” of infants born alive, including those who survived after attempted abortions.
LR-131, a legislative referendum known as the Montana Born-Alive Infant Protection Act, asked Montanans to decide whether “infants born alive, including infants born alive after an abortion, are legal persons.” The measure would have also found healthcare providers guilty of failing to take medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve a born-alive infant’s life, with a punishment of a fine up to $50,000 or imprisonment up to 20 years, or both.
“A born-alive infant means an infant who breathes, has a beating heart, or has definite movement of voluntary muscles, after the complete expulsion or extraction from the mother,” the referendum reads.
Republican lawmakers and supporters of the measure said it would have protected babies that survived botched abortions, which studies suggest the failure rate of the medical abortion process is less than 1%.
Rep. Matt Regier (R-Kalispell), who sponsored a bill last year that put the controversial measure on the ballot, told the House Judiciary Committee in January 2021 that it would define who Montanans are as a state.
“This goes right down to, are we going to stand for life, or are we going to throw it away,” Regier said.
In an op-ed, Regier wrote, “A YES vote for LR 131 will do exactly what the title states — protect all infants that are born alive. This is different from the abortion debate. This law only affects medical providers intentionally allowing children born alive to perish.”
Montana resident Lea Bossler told the Montana Free Press that she lost her daughter 115 days after she was born prematurely from fetal inflammatory response syndrome. If the law had been in place, the medical staff involved would have been labeled criminals.
“Her death under LR-131 would have been extremely traumatic for everyone, rather than beautiful,” Bossler said. “Legally forced repeated chest compressions and epi shots would have done nothing but overdosed, bruised, and broken her already dying body.”
She added that the law would “infringe deeply on patient privacy, further restrict access to medical services, and eliminate infant palliative care and the human right to a dignified death, regardless of actual medical viability.”
Lauren Wilson of the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics told Montana Public Radio in a statement that the initiative would have “criminalized doctors, nurses, and other health care workers for providing compassionate care for infants, and, in doing so, overridden the decision-making of Montana parents.”
The Montana Free Press reports former Republican state Sen. Al Olszewski sponsored a born-alive bill in 2019 that was later vetoed. He said the bill would clarify that infants born-alive would have legal protections rather than to “go after children and families dealing with the tragedy of fetal abnormalities.”
Congress already passed a law twenty years ago that granted infants born alive the same rights as a person but did not require care or impose penalties on the medical staff, which led 18 other states to pass similar laws.