Supreme Court ruling to trigger Wyoming abortion ban

Marchers display signs of support for abortion access during a May 3, 2022 rally in Laramie. (Ana Castro/WyoFile)

By Sofia Jeremias, WyoFile

The Supreme Court on Friday overturned Roe v. Wade, eliminating Americans’ constitutional right to abortion and clearing the way for Wyoming’s abortion ban trigger law to go into effect.

House Bill 92 – Abortion prohibition-supreme court decision, passed during the 2022 legislative session, makes all abortions illegal in the state except in cases of rape, incest and serious risk of death or “substantial and irreversible physical impairments” for the pregnant woman.

The prohibition will go into effect five days after the governor certifies the ruling to the secretary of state. It’s not yet clear when Gov. Mark Gordon will take that step — the bill states the attorney general has 30 days to report to the Joint Judiciary Interim Committee and the governor.

“This is a decisive win for those who have fought for the rights of the unborn for the past 50 years,” Gordon wrote in a statement. “I signed Wyoming’s prohibition on abortion bill because I believe that the decision to regulate abortions should be left to the states.”

Access to abortion is already very limited in Wyoming. There are no surgical abortion providers and only one practice provides medication abortions. It’s in Jackson, far from the state’s population centers.

“I don’t want to break the law,” Dr. Giovannina Anthony, a physician at Wyoming’s last remaining clinic to provide abortions, told WyoFile the evening before the Supreme Court ruling. “And if it’s not legal, I won’t do it,” she said.

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Anthony noted penalties include up to 14 years imprisonment for providing an illegal abortion. “I’m not going to take a chance on that,” she said.

Wyomingites can also receive abortion pills by mail through Just the Pill. A spokesperson for the organization explained if Wyoming bans abortion patients will have to travel to another state to have a telehealth appointment and then either receive the pills at a mobile clinic or wait one to two days to have the pills mailed to a pick-up location outside of Wyoming.

Idaho and Utah both have abortion ban trigger laws in place. Patients who previously traveled to Salt Lake City or Boise for abortions will no longer be able to do so if the states certify their laws as expected. Most Wyomingites seeking abortions travel to Colorado, but with bans going into effect in two Mountain West states, as well as South and North Dakota, women may face even longer wait times for appointments in clinics where the procedure remains legal.

Abortion restrictions in Texas have driven increased demand in neighboring states making it difficult to secure an appointment, the New Yorker reported.

Anthony said there are many elements of Wyoming’s abortion ban that are unclear. For example, although the law makes exceptions for rape or incest, she’s unsure how a patient or provider would prove those claims. “I think it’s important for the average citizen to understand that rape and incest and health of the mother exceptions are included for political reasons to make the law more palatable, but it has nothing to do with actually caring about those scenarios,” Anthony said. “Because it will be incumbent on the provider to prove to the state that those scenarios were in fact in place.”

What happens if the perpetrator denies a sexual assault? Or the case goes to court and the victim loses the case? Anthony worries that abortions in those cases could be considered a crime in retrospect. “It has a chilling effect on providers who just don’t want to go down that road,” she said. “And I think it would have a chilling effect on me as well.”

She doesn’t believe she will see many patients claiming incest as a factor. “It’s so suppressed, closeted and horrific a crime that it just doesn’t get reported,” Anthony said.

Additionally, Anthony worries about the prosecution of medically necessary abortions. “In the setting of complicated obstetric or gynecologic issues, I don’t know how to navigate that,” she said.

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She points to a recent example of a patient from Dubois who had cardiac issues that made continuing her pregnancy a risk.

“Her risk of death if she continued her pregnancy was 40%,” Anthony said. “Is that a high enough risk? I mean, she has a 60% chance of not dying.”

Anthony doesn’t know the answer. If abortion is banned in Wyoming in the coming days, she says she’d likely send patients in similar situations to Colorado.

As long as the state doesn’t move to also criminalize aiding and abetting the sourcing of abortion services she will continue to work with local groups like Chelsea’s Fund to help women legally secure abortions in other states.

 

 

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.