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Marriage certificate

More than a century after Montana celebrated women’s suffrage and sent the first female representative in the nation to Congress, the state may finally do away with a long outdated requirement that women seeking a marriage license first submit to a blood test.

Missoula Rep. Kim Dudik, a Democrat, has a bill in the Legislature that would at last abolish the premarital blood test for Montana brides. Last week, House Bill 136 was referred to the Judiciary Committee, which is chaired by Bloomfield Republican Rep. Alan Doane. Rep. Connie Keogh, D-Missoula, and Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton, are western Montana’s female committee members on the 19-member commission.

They should rally their colleagues to get this bill passed out of committee and forwarded to the floor without undue delay. While there once may have been good reason to require women to be tested for rubella immunity, those reasons are no longer relevant.

In fact, Montana is the last remaining state in the nation to recognize this; every other state has dropped the blood test requirement as a condition for obtaining a marriage license. In 2007, the Montana Legislature did address the issue — but only to allow brides to opt out after signing an acknowledgement of the pregnancy risks related to rubella, and only if the groom signs too. Otherwise, the female applicant must provide a medical certificate signed by a physician stating that she has been tested or is exempt for medical reasons. Some counties, such as Missoula, allow brides age 50 or older to simply skip these steps.

Rubella is a virus that results in relatively mild, measle-like symptoms in children and adults, but it can have disastrous effects on babies in utero. Pregnant women who are infected with rubella may experience spontaneous abortion or premature delivery, and up to 85 percent of newborns who survive will suffer significant health problems. That’s why it is important for all women considering pregnancy, married or not, to be sure of their immunization status. The rubella vaccine is not recommended for women who are already pregnant.

However, rubella vaccines are now routinely given as part of the modern immunization schedule for both male and female children. Typically, public school children in Montana are given the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot as part of their vaccination requirements. Thanks in large part to these regular vaccinations, rubella has been all but eradicated in the United States. The most recent known case of a Montana infant born with rubella was in 1990.

Yet Montana women are still expected to go through the added expense and inconvenience of getting a blood test before they can be married, and regardless of whether they intend on ever having children. Clearly, this is an outdated mode of thinking.

Generations of brides will thank Montana’s legislators for recognizing that, and getting rid of this antiquated requirement.

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