There are a lot of reasons Montanans should worry about the prospect of Greg Gianforte becoming our next governor, but the most obvious threat his election would pose is the threat to reproductive rights across the state. While he’s never been shy about his desire to strip women of control of their bodies, he recently escalated his attack by signing on to an amicus brief to the Supreme Court that argues against choice, suggesting that the “unworkability of the ‘right to abortion’ found in Roe” should lead to it being overturned.
The particular case before the Court is telling. In 2016, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law that was nearly identical to the one before the Court now, but the composition of the Court has, of course, changed with Brett Kavanaugh replacing Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Anti-choice activists are probing and testing the Court to see just how far it will go in permitting restrictions to abortion access, all with the ultimate aim of overturning Roe.
In fact, part of the brief Gianforte signed explicitly calls on the Court to end recognition of abortion as a constitutional right and turn the matter over to the states. From Rewire News:
“Roe did not actually hold that abortion was a ‘fundamental’ constitutional right, but only implied it,” the lawmakers argue in their brief. “Casey clearly did not settle the abortion issue, and it is time for the Court to take it up again.”
And the brief submitted by Americans for Life takes the argument one step farther:
“Roe’s assumptions have changed considerably since 1973,” AUL’s brief argues. “Biological and technological developments, including the development of in vitro fertilization since the 1970s, have reinforced the medical conclusion of the 19th century that the life of the individual human being begins at conception.”
“Since abortion is not a right derived from the federal constitution, it is a matter for the people to decide through the democratic process in the States,” the AUL brief continues.
Situating the debate over abortion rights and access in the states has been the conservative game plan since the Roe decision. And that’s why—even though Steve Daines also signed off on the brief—it’s Gianforte that poses the greatest threat to reproductive rights in Montana.
If elected governor, he will almost certainly sign every piece of legislation attacking abortion rights, whether they simply make access more difficult or even criminalize the procedure. In 2019, the Legislature passed a bill requiring ultrasounds before an abortion could be performed and the Senate passed a measure that would criminalize late-term abortions even if the life of the mother was at risk.
In 2017, the Legislature came close to passing a bill making an abortion after five months a felony and a measure that would require doctors to save a fetus if it “a more than 50 percent chance of living outside the womb.”
All these bills—and a number of earlier efforts to restrict access to reproductive health services—were blocked because a Democratic governor vetoed the measures, or they were killed on the floor because legislators knew they would not sign those bills.
It is a certainty that Greg Gianforte would sign all of them. It is a certainty that a Governor Gianforte would sign even worse bills.
Of course, the threat does not just come from Gianforte. The other Republican candidates, Attorney General Tim Fox and State Senator Al Olszewski, have staked out extremist positions on abortion rights as well.
And that’s why Montanans deserve to know the specifics of what each man would do if elected governor. If a real debate between the Republican candidates takes place, we deserve to hear more than empty words about being “pro-life.” Montana voters deserve to know whether these candidates would:
- Criminalize abortion procedures for patients or doctors.
- Impose Louisiana-style restrictions that will make reproductive health much less accessible, especially for the poor.
- Mandate invasive ultrasound procedures before abortions are performed.
- Outlaw abortion when the mother is a rape or incest survivor, or likely to die if she gives birth.
- Restrict insurance coverage for abortion.
- Mandate “counseling” that provides inaccurate and dangerous information before an abortion is performed.
Let’s make sure the 2020 election is about understanding exactly how candidates will undermine or protect the right to reproductive health. Given the Supreme Court’s rightward lurch and a likely new regime of state-level restrictions, it’s critical that we know specifics, not generalizations, truths, not poll-tested talking points.