Attorney General Austin Knudsen’s office has rejected a proposed ballot measure aimed at safeguarding access to abortion in the Montana Constitution. The ruling, issued this week, deems the proposed amendment legally insufficient, citing a violation of Montana’s requirement that unrelated constitutional changes be voted on separately.
Advocated by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, the measure sought to incorporate language into the state constitution, establishing “a right to make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.” The proposed amendment would have allowed virtually unlimited abortion in Montana, asserting that the right to abortion should not be denied or burdened except for a compelling government interest addressing a medically acknowledged, bona fide health risk. The text also allowed the government to regulate abortion after fetal viability without defining a specific time frame of fetal viability, potentially allowing abortions up to birth. Additionally, it prohibited penalizing or prosecuting individuals based on their pregnancy outcomes or for assisting others in exercising their rights under the amendment.
The attorney general’s sufficiency review argued that the proposed amendment exceeded the preservation of Montana’s existing abortion status quo, based on the 1999 Armstrong decision of the Montana Supreme Court. It contended that the language included unrelated changes and denied voters the ability to make independent choices on specific abortion-related details.
The decision is subject to potential appeal to the Montana Supreme Court, which recently overturned a similar ruling by the attorney general on a different ballot measure. Raph Graybill, an attorney for Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights, expressed disappointment in the decision and accused Attorney General Knudsen of prioritizing personal politics over a fair process. Graybill asserted confidence in the legality of the ballot initiative language and pledged to take legal action to ensure Montanans have the opportunity to vote on securing their reproductive rights in 2024.
Graybill was the 2020 Democrat nominee for Attorney General, he lost to Knudsen by more than 100,000 votes.
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