Why losing Montana’s Born Alive election matters

“Abortion is on the ballot” We heard that over and over again this fall in the US, and in Montana it was meant literally.

We defeated LR-131, a measure that ostensibly concerned abortion but actually required health care providers to take babies from their parents’ arms and perform ineffective and hopeless procedures when the child had no chance of surviving. The measure would have created havoc for healthcare providers, patients and families who are coping with heartbreaking fetal diagnoses and doing nothing to help babies, their authors falsely claimed.

Instead of letting our adversaries have a conversation fueled by false narratives, we chose a very different strategy: we told the truth.

The defeat of LR-131 deserves national attention because it represents a clear and groundbreaking repudiation of our opponents’ cynical, deceptive strategy — and it was also the first time so-called “live-born abortions” were put directly before voters.

When a family receives a fatal pregnancy diagnosis, some may choose to terminate the pregnancy through early delivery, allowing them to hold and comfort their baby during the baby’s final moments. Still others may go into spontaneous preterm labor and give birth to a very preterm baby months before a due date. In these cases, families say goodbye to an infant who has only a short time to live.

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Forcing physicians to intervene in these situations, which would be required if LR-131 had been passed, would not only be futile, but would also deprive families of those last precious moments with their babies. Under LR-131, no exceptions would have been allowed for grieving parents of nonviable infants. This is the reality families face as our adversaries toss inflammatory rhetoric like “infanticide” that couldn’t be further from the truth. Because of this, it has been rejected 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 nationwide collaboration focused on the voices of those most affected: Montana families who have faced tragic situations of infant loss, and the providers who share their medical expertise and support when parents make these decisions meeting. Not only would it deprive families of the ability to make personal end-of-life decisions when choosing palliative care for their child or having their child baptized, it would have punished physicians with felony charges, up to 20 years in prison and a $50,000 fine — all to support a family’s desires.

This initiative was a near-impact copy of bills that anti-abortion advocates keep proposing because they believe it will be a win-win. Still, we defeated the measure by 53% of the vote in a state where a larger majority of Republicans won. The victory is a reminder that advocacy for families – for personal choices and against political abuse – has bipartisan support.

When our campaign began, to be honest, even the most optimistic reading of the polls showed that we were in for an uphill, uphill battle. But we trusted that if Montanans learned the truth about the political hype and the potential harm to families, they would choose to oppose LR-131.

Coming here was no small feat. From fraudulent election language to inaccurate statements in the Secretary of State’s voter information booklet to misleading claims and derogatory remarks about health professionals by lawmakers, we have fought every step to ensure truth prevails.

Anti-abortion politicians have completely misunderstood the public. They thought they were being clever like they did in Kansas by putting a deceptive measure on the ballot to win votes for themselves. They proposed unnecessary policies that would have excruciating repercussions on families facing devastating fetal diagnoses, all for political gain. And the voters saw through it.

Our victory should be a lesson to anyone who writes some states off as unworthy of a fight – or thinks some issues are too difficult or complex to win. We can roll back the anti-abortion deception. We can be confident that voters understand the complexities of making decisions about reproductive health and pregnancy. And we can count on people to see the truth.

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