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Secretary of State seeks involvement in abortion suit

Chuck Gray joins lawmakers, anti-abortion group in request to intervene — though the same judge already denied a similar request.

Chuck Gray, Secretary of State (Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

Madelyn Beck, WyoFile

Wyoming Secretary of State Chuck Gray seeks to intervene in the lawsuit challenging the state’s near-total abortion ban. 

Gray, along with Reps. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams (R-Cody), Chip Neiman (R-Hulett) and Right to Life Wyoming, filed to join the case and defend the ban. Rodriguez-Williams, Neiman and RTLW failed to sway the same judge with a similar request last November amid a challenge to the state’s previous ban.

Why it matters 

It’s unusual for secretaries of state to insert themselves into such legal matters, former Secretary of State Max Maxfield told the Casper Star Tribune

Gray has a unique interest in this case because of his past work to restrict abortions during his time in the Wyoming Legislature, the filing argues. It also noted his office’s role as custodian for legislative acts and his role as Gov. Mark Gordon’s successor should Gordon be unable to continue his work. 

If Ninth District Court Judge Melissa Owens grants any of the requestors intervenor status, they could present their own evidence and legal reasoning for why they believe the law is Constitutional. 


This new lawsuit is stacked with familiar groups. 

The plaintiffs include a coalition of women and health care providers who had also filed suit over the last abortion ban. The defendants — which include the state, governor and attorney general — are also the same. 

The lawsuit over the previous ban was scheduled for a hearing in Jackson late this year, but the ban itself was replaced by House Bill 152 – Life is a Human Right Act, making the previous case moot.

Gordon let HB 152 go into effect without his signature last month. In a March 17 letter explaining his decision, Gordon said that he had concerns about the law’s ability to withstand legal scrutiny without a change to the state constitution. 

Plaintiffs had filed the current suit challenging the law’s constitutionality and requesting a temporary restraining order before Gordon even announced his decision not to veto or sign the measure. 

The four potential intervenors tried to submit an amicus brief on behalf of the new law before an initial March 22 hearing, but Owens declined that attempt and put a temporary restraining order on the law. 

That leaves most abortion legal in Wyoming. 

Excluding Gray, the group of intervenors had also tried to get involved in the lawsuit over the previous ban. However, Owens ruled last November that they hadn’t proven direct, substantial and “legally protectable” interests — a test Owens said was used by the Tenth Circuit Court. 

The group appealed that decision to the Supreme Court, which was formally dismissed last week at the request of the intervenors. 

The original text of HB 152, specifically stated that sponsors and cosponsors have the right to intervene in lawsuits like this one. That would have included Rodriguez-Williams and Nieman, but the Senate stripped that provision shortly before passage. 

Who said what

“The Court cannot find any caselaw or statutes providing legislators with a legal right to intervene on the basis of being sponsors or co-sponsors of a particular bill,” Owens stated last year when denying the intervenors’ request in the previous lawsuit.

“The Court finds that interests founded on the Legislator’s personal convictions are not different from any Wyoming citizen’s interest in seeing legislation enacted that promotes the health, welfare, and safety of Wyoming’s citizens.”

Owens also found that neither Right to Life Wyoming nor the lawmakers would be forced to stop their work because of the outcome of this lawsuit. 

The Court cannot find any caselaw or statutes providing legislators with a legal right to intervene on the basis of being sponsors or co-sponsors of a particular bill. MELISSA OWENS, NINTH DISTRICT COURT JUDGE IN JACKSON

Plaintiffs contended last year that extra information from the intervenors wouldn’t add anything, but would complicate and delay litigation. Owens agreed, stating, “Permitting the Applicants to intervene would unduly delay the adjudication of the rights of the parties.”

The new group of four potential intervenors has stated in their filings that the defendants’ arguments to date — including in the hearing on March 22 — have not adequately represented the applicants’ positions and demonstrate that their interests won’t be fully represented.

“If their motion to intervene is denied, the Legislators, the Secretary of State, and RTLW will be unable to defend their particular interests, and they will be unable to bring their unique perspective, knowledge, and evidence to this Court,” the filing states. 

Attorneys for the potential intervenors, who work for the conservative Christian advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom, also advocated for their clients on the ADF website.

“Secretary Gray, Reps. Rodriguez-Williams and Neiman, and Right to Life of Wyoming are seeking to preserve the lives of unborn children and the wellbeing of their mothers. We urge the court to allow them to help defend Wyoming’s duly enacted law,” ADF Senior Counsel Denise Harle stated.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.