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Governor of Wyoming signs bill banning the use of abortion pills

By Sarah May on
 March 28, 2023

Republican Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill earlier this month prohibiting the use of abortion pills in his state, as Reuters reports, setting the stage for court battle that was initiated almost immediately thereafter.

In addition, the governor permitted a separate measure known as the “Life is a Human Right Act” – described as a sweeping ban on abortions – to go into effect without his signature, a move that has also sparked litigation.

Governor signs ban

The Wyoming ban on abortions conducted via prescription pills represents the first time a state has explicitly prohibited that form of pregnancy termination, though other states have implemented restrictions on how such medications are administered or have achieved the same ends through broader bans on abortion.

As Fox News notes, medical abortions of this type, which generally require the use of two prescription medications administered days apart, has become the most widely utilized method of chemical abortion, now accounting for over half of all abortions conducted in the United States.

In signing the bill, and simultaneously allowing the separate ban to become law, Gordon noted his concerns that the latter provision would prompt litigation that could “delay any resolution to the constitutionality of the abortion ban in Wyoming.”

Gordon said, “I believe this question needs to be decided as soon as possible so that the issue of abortion in Wyoming can be finally resolved, and that is best done with a vote of the people.”

Critics respond

Gordon's decision to sign the abortion pill ban was met with strong criticism from Antonio Serrano, advocacy director of the Wyoming ACLU.

“A person's health, not politics, should guide important medical decisions – including the decision to have an abortion,” said Serrano.

Julie Burkart, president of Wellspring Health Access, a group standing in opposition to the abortion pill ban, added her voice to Serrano's in condemning the move, as the Associated Press noted.

“Wyomingites deserve access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including both surgical and medication abortion, and that's why we are fighting to keep medication abortion legal in Wyoming, Burkart said.

Litigation heats up

As anticipated, an amended lawsuit was filed last week by those hoping to stop the abortion pill ban from taking effect, as the AP further noted.

Those responsible for the new claims were already working to block the aforementioned, broader ban on abortion, claiming that the two measures together are in conflict with one another and produce confusion about the current state of the law in Wyoming.

Challenging the laws in addition to Wellspring Health Access are four women as well as abortion advocacy group Chelsea's Fund.

Bridget Hill, Wyoming's attorney general, responded to the amended lawsuit through a spokesperson who said that she “will vigorously defend the legality of this law, just as she does with all statutes when their constitutionality is challenged.”

Court temporarily halts ban

As the legal wrangling over the laws gets underway in earnest, a state District Court judge last week temporarily prevented enforcement of the sweeping abortion ban Gordon permitted to take effect without his signature, as CNBC reported.

In something of an ironic twist, in making her ruling, Judge Melissa Owens cited a decade-old amendment to the state constitution supported largely by conservatives who were concerned about the impacts of Obamacare on their ability to make healthcare decisions for themselves.

Pointing out that the “Life is a Human Right Act” explicitly says that abortion is not a form of health care, Owens said, “To declare abortion is not health care when there may be evidence to show that it is – the legislature cannot make an end run around essentially providing a constitutional amendment,” adding that “the state cannot legislate away a constitutional right. It's not clear if abortion is or isn't healthcare, and the court has to then decide that.”

The ultimate fate of abortion in Wyoming – regardless of how performed – continues to hang in the balance pending the outcome of the aforementioned lawsuits, as similar battles continue in states still grappling with aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn the precedent of Roe v. Wade.