Abortion to remain legal in Wyoming while lawsuit proceeds

Posted at 9:14 PM, August 10, 2022 and last updated 3:12 PM, July 14, 2023

By MEAD GRUVER Associated Press

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Abortion will remain legal in Wyoming while a lawsuit that contests a ban on the procedure in nearly all cases moves ahead, a judge ruled Wednesday.

The lawsuit will likely succeed because the ban appears to violate the state constitution and is vague, Teton County District Judge Melissa Owens, in Jackson, wrote in granting the preliminary injunction.

An abortion-rights supporter holds a sign outside the South Carolina Statehouse on Thursday, July 7, 2022, in Columbia, S.C. Protesters clashed outside a legislative building, where lawmakers were taking testimony as they consider new restrictions on abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning of Roe v. Wade. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

In the meantime, the abortion ban would likely harm pregnant women, such as those with serious complications, and their doctors, who would risk prosecution by giving abortions in an attempt to help, Owens wrote.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, signed Wyoming’s abortion “trigger” ban into law in March. The law was written to take effect if the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade decision, which happened June 24.

The new Wyoming law would ban abortion except in cases of rape or incest or to protect the mother’s life or health, not including psychological condition. Those who violate the ban would be charged with a felony punishable by up to 14 years in prison.

The ban took effect July 27. But within hours Owens granted a temporary restraining order suspending the law, finding it would harm pregnant women and their doctors. Her latest ruling keeps the law suspended after the restraining order expired Wednesday.

With both rulings, Owens sided with four women, including two obstetricians, and two nonprofits, including a planned Casper women’s health care and abortion clinic that was firebombed in May, who sued to contest the law.

The ruling is an “important victory for abortion access,” Julie Burkhart, founder of the Wellspring Health Access clinic, said in a statement.

“While we are heartened by today’s outcome, we know the fight to keep abortion legal in Wyoming is far from over,” Burkhart said.

Wyoming will continue to defend the law in court, Gordon spokesman Michael Pearlman said by email Wednesday.

Areas where the ban appears to violate the Wyoming constitution include a 2012 amendment guaranteeing the right to make one’s own health care decisions, Owens wrote.

Voters passed the amendment amid resistance to the federal Affordable Care Act, which sought to expand health insurance coverage and lower health care costs nationwide. The amendment had nothing to do with abortion, Wyoming special assistant attorney general Jay Jerde said in a hearing in the case Tuesday.

“It’s just not within the facts that were kicking around at the time,” Jerde said in court.

A judge can’t assume that voters didn’t understand the full effect of the constitutional amendment, Owens wrote in keeping the abortion law suspended.

The abortion ban also appears to violate the state constitution by discriminating against women, she wrote.

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