“Abortion is on the ballot.” We heard that time and time again across the U.S. this fall, and in Montana, this was literal.
We defeated LR-131, a measure that was ostensibly about abortion but in reality mandated that health care providers must take babies from their parents’ arms and perform ineffective and hopeless procedures, when the infant has no chance of surviving. The measure would have created chaos for health care providers, patients, and families navigating heartbreaking fetal diagnoses while doing nothing to help babies, as its authors falsely claimed.
Instead of letting our opponents drive a conversation fueled by false narratives, we opted for a different strategy altogether: We told the truth.
LR-131’s defeat deserves national attention because it represents a resounding and groundbreaking repudiation of our opponents’ cynical, deceptive strategy—and it was also the first time that so-called “born alive abortions” was put to voters directly.
When a family receives a fatal diagnosis for a pregnancy, some may choose to end the pregnancy by delivering early, which allows them to hold and comfort their baby during the baby’s final moments. Still, others may experience spontaneous preterm labor and give birth to a very premature infant months before a delivery date. In these instances, families are saying goodbye to an infant that is born with only a short time to live.
Forcing doctors to intervene in these situations, which would be required had LR-131 passed, would not only be futile but would also deny families these final precious moments with their babies. No exceptions for grieving parents of nonviable infants would have been permitted under LR-131. That is the reality of what families are facing while our opponents throw around inflammatory rhetoric like “infanticide,” which could not be further from the truth. That is why it was opposed by Montana’s major medical organizations, including the Montana Medical Association, the Montana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Montana Nurses Association.
At Compassion for Montana Families, our statewide collaboration centered the voices of those most impacted: Montana families who had faced tragic situations of infant loss and the providers who share their medical expertise and support as parents make these decisions. It would not only deny families the ability to make personal end of life decisions in choosing palliative care for their infant or having them baptized, but also would have punished doctors with felony charges, up to 20 years in jail and $50,000 in fines—all for supporting a family’s wishes.
This initiative was a near-carbon copy of bills that abortion opponents propose again and again because they believe that it is a winning issue for them. Yet we defeated the measure with 53% of the vote in a state that saw a greater majority of Republican wins. The victory is a reminder that standing up for families—for personal decision-making and against political overreach—has bipartisan support.
When our campaign began, truth be told, even the most optimistic read of the polls showed us facing a steep uphill battle. But we trusted that when provided with the truth about the political overreach and the potential harm to families, Montanans would choose to vote down LR-131.
Getting here was no small feat. From deceptive ballot language to inaccurate statements in the Secretary of State’s Voter Information Pamphlet to legislators making misleading claims and disparaging remarks about health professionals, we fought every step of the way to ensure that truth would win out.
Anti-abortion politicians completely misread the public. They thought they were being clever, as they did in Kansas, by putting a deceptive measure on the ballot in an effort to drive up votes for themselves. They proposed an unnecessary policy that would have an excruciating impact on families facing devastating fetal diagnoses all for political gain. And the voters saw through it.
Our win should be a lesson to anyone who writes off some states as not worth fighting for—or deems some issues too tough or complex and thus, unwinnable. We can push back on anti-abortion deception. We can trust that voters understand the complexity of reproductive health and pregnancy decisions. And we can rely on people to see the truth.