Bohlinger Claims He Was “Consistently” Pro-Choice. The Record Disagrees

I have no interest in attacking former Lieutenant Governor and current Senate candidate John Bohlinger, but his response to allegations about his pro-choice record do demand clarification. Today, he claimed that he was “consistently” pro-choice during his time in the Legislature:


It’s simply not true that Bohlinger was pro-choice, much less consistently so. His record is that of a legislator who was largely opposed to reproductive rights. To claim otherwise ignores his voting record from three sessions.

In 1999, Bohlinger received a 0% rating from Montana NARAL for voting for a so-called “partial birth abortion ban.” As NARAL noted then, the bill was a “blatant violation of a woman’s right to privacy and a clear threat to the reproductive health and well-being of women faced with this difficult decision.”

In 2001, Bohlinger also received a 0% rating from NARAL. That session, he voted for a “Fetal Protection Act” that could have “caused every stillbirth, pre-term delivery, and low birth weight baby to be investigated for criminal conduct.”

In 2003, Bohlinger received a 50% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice Montana. That session, he voted for Dan McGee’s SB 274: Compelling Interest in the Protection of Unborn Human Life bill, which would have amended the Montana Constitution to dramatically restrict a woman’s right to choose. Proponents included Gregg Trude from Montana Right to Life, Gilda Clancy from Eagle Forum, and Bob Kelleher from Butte.

Bohlinger was so concerned about his pro-life credentials that he pursued a claim against a primary opponent who suggested Bohlinger was pro-choice in a private conversation.

I’d certainly be happy to learn that Mr. Bohlinger has realized the importance of reproductive rights, but there is no way he can honestly claim to have supported choice when he had the opportunity to vote for it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Bohlinger has always played it smart. He knows it’s a wedge issue, and so occupies the middle, personally opposed , but against laws forcing people to abide by religious restrictions. He has it right. You’re litmus testing. He’s doing politics.

  • If that were the position he actually occupied, I’d be all for him. But it’s not his personal beliefs but his votes that are going to make this primary exceptionally difficult for him. I don’t think the insistence on 100% purity from NARAL is a fair requirement for Democratic office seekers, but the case of Jesse Laslovich seems to indicate that for a lot of people it is.

    • I’m probably not someone who would require a 100% NARAL vote to support a candidate, but Bohlinger wasn’t even close. I think it’s really disingenuous for him to suggest he has always been pro-choice.

      • But unless he’s running for mullah, it’s merely a wedge issue as demonstrated here: an issue with the power to move voters and of no consequence.

        Thanks for the demonstration of the power of wedge politics.

        • Not true, Mark. We’re all under the same Court Ruling, and yet different States have vastly different abortion situations. Within the framework of Roe v. Wade, abortion rights can vary widely – do we want the country to look more like Connecticut, or more like Mississippi?

          • There are cultural taboos around the country that are not the product of laws and rulings. Would you rather be gay in San Francisco or Wyoming? But the law is uniform even if only enforced to varying degrees.

            Public opinion, when of mostly of one mind, is a powerful force. Laws and rulings will change accordingly. I recognize that public opinion matters, that legislators can be forced to act in some situations. But the US is a strange beast, so deeply under rule of TV and propaganda that there is seemingly no public mind anymore. The public can be manipulated and toyed with in so many directions that elections are no more than advertising orgies.

            Accordingly, abortion is used by both sides of the issue to rally their forces even though election outcomes have no bearing on the issue. That’s wedge politics.

            • You’re right that community mores are a big issue in determining abortion accessibility, but Pogie and Norma aren’t just dealing snark – look at the actual abortion laws in Texas. The actual letter of the law changed, due to a GOP majority, and a third of abortion clinics closed as a result. Those clinics didn’t close because of community mores and public opinion – they closed because enough Republicans were elected in Texas to pass laws making it impossible for them to stay open.

              That’s not wedge politics – that’s real people’s lives caused by real people’s votes. I know it doesn’t fit with your paradigm of how the world is supposed to work, but it’s an observable fact. If the Supreme Court upholds the law in Texas, it likely be considered constitutional to pass a similar law at a nation-wide level if there are enough pro-life Senators to block the inevitable filibuster.

              • [sigh] … My “paradigm” is that wedge issues drive all other issues out. Don will not support John Bohlinger based on this one issue! Wedge issues are gold, so valuable that for 41 years here’s been no movement on Roe vs Wade, only threats. Guns are another, as is immigration. These are the “substance” of political campaigns that politicians use to avoid accountability.

                Just an aside, Bohlinger is a good man. It would be a shame to see him trashed based on one issue. But wedge issues are the Gresham’s law of politics: fake issues drive out real ones.

              • Mark, you continue to make statements in direct contradiction to the facts before you. There has been no movement on Roe V. Wade because it’s a SCOTUS case, and movement there is inevitably slow. There has been substantial movement on both sides of abortion you rights. You seem to think that Roe v. Wade guarantees the sort of rights women have in New England or even in Montana. Time and time again the court has allowed a wide variety of limitations on reproductive rights, thus the situation you see today in much of the south (and in the Dakotas). It’s not a coincidence that States that elect a lot of Republicans tend to have strict abortion laws. Your refusal to believe that, and your insistence on repeating the same catchphrases again and again, shows that you’ve stopped thinking about the issue.

              • These are not ” catch phrases.” Evaluation of a candidate based on one issue alone, as Don did here, is a clear demonstration of the effectiveness of wedge politics.

                Taken as a whole, I regard John Bohlinger as a smart and sincere man who understands both politics and complex issues like legal abortion. If I do not get everything I want from him, there is enough there in integrity, brains and strategic thinking to satisfy me. I don’t know of many people in Montana politics in my experience who have demonstrated these qualities. Tom Towe comes to mind. There are others, but I cannot name them. They are not currently holding office for sure.

                Your repeated refrains to abortion as a stand-alone issue merely put a “!” After my point. So I repeat: Yes, it is important. So are many other issues. The most important to me is the one you repeatedly neglect: accountability. You guys are all over Daines but ignore, for example, Tester, over whom you actually exert some influence.

                As you say, since the Supreme Court acts as our House of Lords, ruling on issues without recourse, they are under little control other than the ability to give testimony without disintegrating during hearings. I don’t see where we control them or where electoral politics makes much difference.

                • Enjoy your privilege as a man to ignore a candidate’s position on abortion. I’d argue that his votes make him a very unlikely winner in a Democratic primary. None of that changes the fact that he might be a “smart and sincere” man, but it means that he has little chance winning this election–and that’s probably a good thing.

                  While you believe that elections don’t matter, I think having a a pro-choice Senator is better than having a pro-life one, especially one who has voted for really stringent restrictions on reproductive rights. Since none of it matters to you, it’s odd that you’re investing so much energy in this.

                  I am curious, though. What else do you know about Mr. Bohlinger’s legislative record? I’d bet that, without a Google search, you have no idea what he voted for or what he stood for.

                • You’re way off base here, single-issue man. I do not ignore abortion or think it unimportant. I merely evaluate a person’s worthiness based on his overall timbre and views on a wide array of issues, personal integrity being high on my list. I guess, if I am single-issue, I’ll avoid any candidate who plays wedge issues, as that is disreputable, in my view.

                  John and I harmonized in 1996 when I ran as an open liberal and he as a renegade Republican. I would have been a bad legislator, as I was too naive and the learning curve too short. John, however, was liberal on most issues of that time, but was a republican due to his opposition to unions in general and minimum wage increases in particular. His voting record? Matters not in the least to me any more than Tester’s or Baucus!so as such things are artificial constructions that can be spun any direction. Anyone familiar with politics understands this.

                  “None of that changes the fact that he might be a “smart and sincere” man, but it means that he has little chance winning this election–and that’s probably a good thing”

                  And you think my not voting for lesser-evil choices is a defect?

                • Once again, you’re right. Clearly, your two decade old perception of John Bohlinger matters more than his voting record. How do I talk myself into engaging in a debate with someone possessed of such superior reasoning?

                • “an issue with the power to move voters and of no consequence. ”

                  “So I repeat: Yes, it is important. ”

                  Of no consequence and ‘yes, it is important’ here are of course describing the same thing. You’re talking in circles again, Mark.

                  I think the real problem with Bohlinger is the claim: “I’ve always been pro-choice”. When it’s come down to votes, that’s simply not true. I wish he’d have said “I have become more pro-choice in recent years.” That would have been honest. I made it clear in the SoS Dem primary that I don’t think a 100% NARAL score is necessary to be a good candidate or even to be a good defender of women’s rights. Don expected John to stick honestly by his record – look at his previous posts. In this case he appears to be misrepresenting his record, and Don is doing what you’re always asking him to do: Holding a Democrat accountable.

                  Your opinion on the matter would be a bit more meaningful if you could decide whether abortion is ‘important’ or ‘of no consequence’.

                • I have written long pieces on the meaning of public statements and voting records, not that it means anything. If I put more thought into it, I could write shorter pieces. That is, however. evidence at least that I’ve thought about it more than you.

                  It is my conclusion that voting records can be manipulated, that people of identical beliefs can construct records that make them appear opposite of one another. For that reason, records are of less importance than the tell-all of policies, following the money.

                  It’s hard to make subtle points with a b/w thinker like you, but elections sometimes matter, when there is a real choice, when real public policy is affected. That’s not usually the case. Bohlinger tossing in his at well past his prime is interesting. In the brief time I knew him, I judged him to be a man of substance and character. You’ve trivialized him by reducing him to one issue.

                  You repeated reference to me as if I’ve got some kind of superior ego it intellect at work is a cloaking device for you, I think, a way to avoid ground-level engagement, where you do not shine.

                • PW – abortion is an important issue but not a matter of consequence in elections, as the only say that voters have in it is distant – election of senators who ratify judges who are not even held to account once in place, who can easily lie about intent.

                  Everything done by elected officials when we are dealing with laws handed down by unaccountable judges will come under their review, no others. That they can change the law at will? That is a real defect in our defective system. But voting for or against a candidate based on abortion is wedge politics, nothing more.

                  Abortion is very important to a woman who does not want to be saddled for life with a mistake or bad judgment. I do. It take it lightly.

                • Mark, will talk smack about any issue, that doesn’t involve him, and always take the other side for the sake of causing an Argument. More like a destroyer of Ideas not a bringer of fresh perspective.

                  But in this argument he is no expert, just a parrot of right wing Ideology.

                  And since he will never know how laws affect women…. because he doesn’t listen to them and isn’t one himself… I’m pretty sure that again, he doesn’t know what the Crap hes talking about.

                • I’ve seen here and at MTCG that party politics is nothing more than a quest for moral superiority.

                  I was raised Catholic and fervently pro-life, and only came to favor legal abortion knowing that it is an ugly but necessary procedure, and that we cannot judge those who get abortions. It’s a moral compromise, but that’s life: as the occupants of this planet, we decide the rules for ourselves, and often those rules involve clear-cut moral choices leaving ones side pristine, the other sullied.

                  All that aside, politics is a different game entirely, and abortion in politics is nothing more than a wedge, a device used to to solidify party bases.

                • Mark –

                  Let me put this the simplest way I can think of:

                  The Supreme Court does not guarantee abortion rights like we have in Montana. It is not primarily a question of Supreme Court Justice confirmation, though that comes in. The question is, on a national level, will Bohlinger stand with Senators who support the current national laws on abortion, or would he side with those who would make our national laws more closely resemble those of pro-life states, laws which the Supreme court has already declined to overturn and which have demonstrably invaded women’s privacy and reduced their access to abortion and other reproductive services.

                • The colonists brought infanticide to America from England while at the same time finding that the Indians practiced it as well. As was the case in Germany extreme discipline characterized family life in puritanical colonial America and parents were given extensive liberty to punish their children, even to the point of death. In 1646 the General Court of Massachusetts Bay had enacted a law where “a stubborn or rebellious son, of sufficient years and understanding, ” would be brought before the Magistrates in court and “such a son shall be put to death.” “Stubborn child laws” were also enacted in Connecticut in 1650, Rhode Island in 1668, and New Hampshire in 1679.

                  The SPCA was founded before children were protected in our own country. IN fact the man who started the SPCA was also the first person to protect children being beaten to death by their own parents. The resulting action by the man, Henry Bergh publicity led to the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children which was a parallel protection agency to his first endeavor.

                  Most of these stubborn child laws were written to protect guess who? The so called religious of our society.

                  Love it when the religious right forgets to explain their HIstorical path in America.


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