Montanais protest abortion restrictions at state capitol

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HELENA – About two hundred supporters of reproductive autonomy gathered at the State Capitol on Saturday to protest government interference in personal medical decisions a day after several abortion restrictions signed by Governor Greg Gianforte were to come into effect statewide.

A Montana District Court judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the entry into force of the new policies until the lawsuit contesting them can be further evaluated, providing a brief respite from the roller coaster of legal maneuvering between prosecutors. the state and Planned Parenthood of Montana which had escalated in the previous 24 hours. .

This scenery set the tone for the weekend’s protest, with members of the crowd expressing their anger that policies had almost become a legal reality in Montana. Jenifer Gursky, executive director of the Helena YWCA and master of ceremonies for the event, led the group in a chant that sought to sum up their anger.

“Get your bans -” called Gurksy.

“- out of my body!” The crowd yelled.

The laws in legal limbo are Bills 136, 140 and 171. They would respectively ban abortions in most cases after 20 weeks of pregnancy, require providers to offer patients an ultrasound before the procedure, and create a network of restrictions on term medical abortions, including a mandate that these drugs be dispensed in person.

Advocates, including Attorney General Austin Knudsen, have called the policies “common sense health protections” for pregnant women and unborn children. In September court records, Montana Attorney General David Dewhirst defended the laws as a way to support the well-being of Montanais and to “ensure that women only go through the process after they have been fully informed of the risks and consequences – including that abortion ends a human’s life.

A protester watches over the State Capitol in Helena on Saturday, October 2, 2021 to oppose Montana’s new laws restricting access to abortion. Credit: Mara Silvers / MTFP

If enacted, the laws would undermine decades-old abortion protections that the Montana Supreme Court determined to be included in the state’s constitutional right to privacy.

The Capitol protest, by turns solemn and energetic, was part of several other towns in Montana, including Billings and Whitefish, and Across the country in support of reproductive choice. Participants at Saturday’s rally in Helena shared songs, poems and speeches to vehemently oppose recent efforts to restrict access to abortion, generally rejecting the idea that the government has anything to do with it. do to regulate personal reproductive decisions.

Other speakers, including Marci McLean, Indigenous Program Director for Leadership Montana, also explained the scale of the reproductive justice movement as it overlaps with other social issues.

“What is reproductive justice? It is economic justice. It is environmental justice. It is housing justice. It’s criminal justice. It is access to health care. That’s it, ”McLean said. “In order for us to procreate, we need all of our needs to be met. Our emotional, our mental, our spiritual and our physical.

Crowd attention, however, seemed to be directed towards policies that make it harder to access abortion. Some of the signs posted during a walk around the Capitol complex read “access to abortion for every uturus in every state” and “Keep your laws out of my body”.

Democratic candidates for one of Montana’s seats in the US House of Representatives also addressed the crowd, urging attendees to put their anger at the new laws into the ballot box.

“It’s not about protecting your health. It’s not about protecting anyone’s health, ”said Laurie Bishop, a Democratic lawmaker from Livingston, denouncing what she called the“ bogus ”policies adopted by the state legislature. “It’s about protecting the power of your Republican legislature… What are we going to do about it?”

“Vote!” the crowd responded.

Cora Neumann, who has worked internationally for women’s rights in the US State Department, explained how restrictions on reproductive rights weigh most heavily on people who already face significant challenges. societal obstacles.

“These laws not only impact all families, but they have a disproportionate impact on those who already face far too many barriers to health care, such as people of color, people living in rural areas and low-income people, ”Neumann said. “… Denying care for these patients is simply unacceptable. “

As laws passed in Montana remain stuck in court, Neumann and other speakers urged attendees not to feel helpless.

“Things look and are very dire right now. These laws and actions are frustrating. They are scary. And this fight is exhausting, ”she said. “But one thing that I hope you will remember today is not to give up hope. We are Montanais, we are resilient… and we will win.”

The crowd applauded.

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