HELENA - Beginning Monday, women are no longer required to have a blood test to determine if they're immune to rubella to get a marriage license, the state Department of Public Health and Human Services said.
The 2007 Legislature passed Senate Bill 132, which eliminated the test as a requirement for obtaining a marriage license, but health officials are urging women to make sure they are immune to the virus before getting pregnant.
Under the old law, a couple could get a marriage license only if a doctor certified that the woman had been tested for rubella immunity or was exempt from testing on medical grounds.
Rubella, sometimes called German measles, causes a relatively mild fever and rash in children and adults, but it can have devastating effects on unborn babies.
"If a woman is infected with rubella in the early months of pregnancy, the results can be catastrophic for her unborn child," said Anne Weber, chief of the Laboratory Services Bureau at DPHHS. "So we hope couples will take the time to educate themselves before making such a critical decision."
Studies have shown that up to 85 percent of infants whose mothers become infected with rubella during the first three months of pregnancy suffer significant health effects, including birth defects, premature delivery and death.
Vaccination against rubella, given as part of the MMR (mumps, measles and rubella) vaccine, protects against the disease, but vaccination is not recommended for pregnant women.
"It's very important for a woman to make sure she's fully immune to rubella before getting pregnant," said Dr. Steven Helgerson, chief medical officer for DPHHS. "Any woman who's not sure she's immune should get vaccinated before getting pregnant. The surest way to know is to get the blood test."
The last infant born in Montana with birth defects related to rubella was born in 1990 and died in 1991, he said.
"We hope this will be the last case of congenital rubella syndrome we ever see here," he added.