Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock plans to let a bill become law that would require underage teenage girls to get notarized parental consent before they could get an abortion.
Pro-choice advocates are cheering the move because they say it will allow them to immediately challenge the measure in court long before an identical measure get to the ballot in 2014.
The bill, House Bill 391, by Rep. Jerry Bennett, passed the Senate on a 30-20 vote and was transmitted Bullock’s office on April 15. By law the governor has 10 days after a bill gets to his desk to sign it into law, veto it, or let it become law without his signature. The deadline for HB391 is today.
Anti-abortion Republicans anticipated that Bullock, a pro-choice Democrat, would veto the measure so they also passed HB521, a legislative referendum virtually identical to HB391 that would put the question to voters in November.
By allowing HB391 to become law, supporters of abortion rights say they can immediately challenge the law in court without waiting 14 months for voters to decide.
Opponents of the parental consent bill say it would put pregnant teen girls who come from dangerous or abusive homes at risk.
“Today the Governor did what is necessary so that the courts may swiftly protect the health and safety of all Montana’s families. We commend the governor for doing what is right for Montana families,” Kelsen Young, executive director for the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, in a statement.
Stacey Anderson, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Montana said the group is committed to supporting parents as the primary “sexuality educators” of children, but she said no state law should force a teen to talk to parents about private matters.
“Laws like this can’t force teens to talk to their parents, and the sad truth is some teens live in dangerous homes and can’t go to their parents,” Anderson said.
Opponents of parental consent for abortions said the bill and the referendum are unconstitutional and will likely be struck down by the courts. They point to a similar law the courts struck down in 1995 because it violates the Montana Constitution’s strong privacy rights.
Niki Zupanic, Public Policy Director for the ACLU of Montana, said Bullock letting the bill become law was the right thing to do.
“We fought this bill in the Legislature and now we will fight it in the courts,” Zupanic said. “The Governor has a responsibility to protect the health and safety of all Montana’s families, and that’s exactly what he did today.”