HELEN, Mont. (AP) – A referendum on the Montana ballot in November raises the prospect of criminal charges against health care providers unless they take “all medically appropriate and reasonable steps to preserve the life” of a child. born alive, including after an attempted abortion.
Referendum supporters say the Born Alive Infants Protection Bill aims to prevent the killing of infants outside the womb after failed abortions. It’s already illegal.
Opponents argue the law could waste valuable time with infants born with incurable medical conditions if doctors are forced to try to treat them.
Americans United for Life, which has proposed model legislation for state “born alive” laws, argues that the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act of 2002 applies only to federal facilities and those that receive federal funding, not private clinics.
According to Americans United for Life, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that opposes abortion, assisted dying and childhood stem cell research, at least half of US states have implemented similar laws on live births after abortion.
Montana law allows homicide charges if a person willfully, knowingly, or negligently causes the death of a premature child born alive, if the child is viable.
When the bill was introduced in the Montana Senate last year, Senator Tom McGillvray said current state law “essentially says ‘don’t kill it.’ That’s the difference.
The legislation states that its purpose is to protect the life of any child born alive as a result of an abortion. However, the text says: “A child born alive, including a child born during an abortion, shall be treated as a legal person under the laws of the State, with the same rights to care and medically appropriate and reasonable treatment. ”
The difference in interpretation appears to be how to define “medically appropriate and reasonable care and treatment” and whether the proposed law would apply in cases where a child is born with medical problems, such as undeveloped vital organs, that do not are not compatible with life.
“Unfortunately, there are limits to the medical interventions that can change these outcomes,” Helena Tim Mitchell, a maternal-fetal medicine physician in Missoula, told Missoula Wednesday at a press conference hosted by Compassion for Families, an organization campaign against the referendum.
If passed, the referendum will require doctors to try to resuscitate any child born alive, regardless of gestational age and underlying medical conditions, and “will require doctors to attempt to place a breathing tube in a baby if small that it won’t fit in and there’s no lung tissue to take breaths in,” Mitchell said. “That will require them to provide chest compressions and place IVs, and administer medications even when the team of healthcare and family know that none of the interventions will impact the tragic but inevitable outcome.”
Republican Representative Matt Regier, the sponsor of the legislation, said Thursday that the proposed referendum simply means medical providers cannot intentionally take the life of an “independent, living, breathing infant.”
When asked if this was happening in Montana, Regier said, “No matter how many, we don’t want one intentionally taken.”
Taking extreme measures to save the life of an infant with life-threatening defects “isn’t medically reasonable,” Regier said. “It has nothing to do with the biology that took the child’s life.”
Penalties for violating the proposed law include up to $50,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison.
Montana’s Republican-controlled legislature passed the bill returning the measure to voters before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wadethe 1973 decision recognizing federal abortion rights.
The proposal will be put to the vote at a time when abortion is an increasingly important issue for voters.
A recent survey found that a growing percentage of Americans cited abortion or women’s rights as one of five issues they want the government to work on.
Jenn Banna of Missoula spoke Wednesday about her daughter, who she knew would be born without a properly developed brain. The referendum, she said, could have robbed her family of the little time they were able to spend with her after she was born.
“We knew if she was born alive, we might only have a few minutes to cuddle her until she passed away,” Banna said.
“When Anna Louise was born, her heart was beating, but she was unable to breathe on her own,” she said.
She and her husband sang for the baby “as her heart slowly stopped beating,” Banna said.