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Montanans’ privacy is on the ballot

by Daily Inter Lake
| October 16, 2022 12:00 AM

Absentee ballots are set to arrive in mailboxes this week, and along with considering a full slate of candidates, Montana voters will also be asked to decide on a pair of ballot questions.

Montana C-48 seeks to amend the state constitution to include electronic data and communications in search and seizure protections. As currently written, the search and seizures section of the constitution states that “the people shall be secure in their persons, papers, homes and effects from unreasonable searches and seizures.” The amendment would simply add “electronic data and communications” to that list — essentially updating the constitution to reflect the reality of modern times.

The ballot measure was brought forward during the 2021 legislative session by Republican Sen. Kenneth Bogner of Miles City. The measure garnered sweeping support, passing unanimously in the Senate and with 76% support in the House. All but one Republican backed the proposal.

For better or worse, smartphones, computers and data servers are entangled in our daily lives. Their contents can be profoundly personal and shouldn’t be subjected to unwarranted snooping by government officials or law enforcement agencies.

Unreasonable governmental search and seizure protections do already exist under state law, but voters would be wise to strengthen those rights to the full extent by adding explicit language to the constitution regarding digital data — let there be no mistake about it.

Michigan and Missouri have already taken similar steps. Montana should be next.

WHILE MONTANA C-48 seeks to strengthen privacy rights, another ballot referendum would cruelly tear those rights away from Montana parents at their most vulnerable moments.

Montana LR-131, the Medical Care Requirements for Born-Alive Infants Measure, raises the prospect of criminal charges for health-care providers unless they take “all medically appropriate and reasonable actions to preserve the life” of an infant born alive, including after an attempted abortion. Penalties for violating the proposed law include up to $50,000 in fines and up to 20 years in prison.

There’s a lot to unpack with this ill-conceived referendum, but let’s start with the fact that state law already protects premature infants born alive. Montana Code Annotated states that a person commits an offense if they “purposely, knowingly, or negligently cause the death of a premature infant born alive, if the infant is viable.”

But LR-131 represents governmental overreach and interference far beyond simple redundancy in law.

Supporters have tied the measure to abortion policy and right-to-life morals. Yet, the actual effect would interject the state government into deeply private patient-physician decisions that transcend myriad medical scenarios beyond abortion.

More than 700 Montana health care professionals signed onto a recent op-ed against LR-131 penned in part by Dr. Tim Mitchell, a maternal fetal medicine physician in Missoula. In it, Mitchell notes the many reasons why an infant might be born with no chance for survival, including “rupture of membranes at a previable gestational age, lethal anomalies of the heart, kidneys, lungs or nervous system, and maternal health emergencies,” among other scenarios.

He argues that the bill amounts to the government mandating aggressive treatment for newborns “for whom no amount of medical care will save, and may instead prolong suffering and severely disrupt families’ grieving process.”

Missoula mother Lea Lorraine Bossler bravely shared with the Inter Lake her own heart-wrenching story (Letting go in peace, Oct. 9).

Her daughter, Maesyn, tragically lost her life due to complications from Fetal Inflammatory Response Syndrome. Bossler shared that she and her fiancé decided that Maesyn’s final moments should be spent outside and under the warmth of the sun, not intubated in a medical setting.

“We were surrounded by love from countless staff members as Maesyn breathed fresh air on her own, for the first and last time. It was three hours of the most beautiful yet devastating heartbreak, in peace, not trauma,” Bossler said.

Under LR-131, Bossler added, Maesyn’s final day would have been in a hospital room, with physicians performing mandated chest compressions and epi shots.

If supporters intend to frame this referendum around morals, one must also consider the morals of allowing parents, physicians and nurses to provide comfort care and a dignified death.

Vote “no” on the Born Alive question to protect all Montanans’ right to privacy and to keep the government out of your deeply personal health-care decisions.

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