National News

Montana’s Catholic Bishops Oppose Abortion Ballot Measure That Gained Required Signatures

A girl at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City watches her mother cast her ballot during early voting on Oct. 29, 2022. (Photo: CNS/Jeenah Moon, Reuters)

WASHINGTON — In late June, Montana organizers had collected enough signatures to advance a ballot initiative to expand abortion access in the state although officials still need to verify the signatures and the secretary of state’s office must certify the measure before it is placed on the November ballot.

The state’s Catholic bishops in a letter to Montana Catholics in May described the amendment as extreme and dangerous and urged people not to sign it.

They said the proposal would “greatly expand the practice of legalized abortion in Montana, abolishing the limited restrictions currently in place and opening the door to a host of practices that violate fundamental rights to life and dignity.”

The state’s three bishops also said the initiative “is being promoted simply as a protection for women’s rights,” but they said it “seeks to enshrine legal authorization” for late-term abortions and would eliminate current parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions which they said imposes a “culture of secrecy” and provides “cover for those who would victimize underage women by committing abuse, human trafficking, and other crimes.”

Montana is one of 11 states where organizers are seeking to expand abortion access in the state constitution through citizen-led ballot initiatives. Similar measures are on the ballot in Colorado, Maryland, Florida, South Dakota, and New York. In New York, a judge had blocked a proposed amendment on the November ballot, but that decision was thrown out June 18 by an appellate court ruling allowing the measure back on the ballot.

Montanans Securing Reproductive Rights, led by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, announced June 21 that it had collected about 117,000 signatures of registered voters — going beyond the approximately 60,300 it needed to move the ballot proposal forward.

The measure, called CI-128, says it would amend the Montana Constitution to clearly provide a right to “make and carry out decisions about one’s own pregnancy, including the right to abortion.”

It would also “prohibit the government from denying or burdening the right to abortion before fetal viability” — about the 24th week of pregnancy — and “prohibit the government from denying or burdening access to an abortion when a treating healthcare professional determines it is medically indicated to protect the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

Abortion is currently legal in Montana until viability.

In their letter, the bishops asked Montanans “to pray for the defeat of this constitutional initiative and stand in defense of women, children, and all those threatened by this extreme proposal.”