February 23, 2017
You might say the Wyoming Senate took two steps backward Thursday for women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions. But that’s not nearly a strong enough metaphor—the 19 lawmakers who passed these two totally unnecessary and invasive anti-abortion bills sprinted at least a mile in the wrong direction.
There’s still time for House Bills 116 and 182 to be thrown on the rockpile of rejection where all bad legislative ideas are supposed to go. This was only the first reading for HB-116, which makes it a crime to sell fetal tissue for a profit even though it’s not happening and it’s already against the law anyway.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Steinmetz (R-Lingle), a member of the Wyoming House’s GOP extreme right-wing, passed 19 – 11 with no discussion at all in the Senate, giving full credence to the absurd notion that abortion clinics’ “selling baby parts” is an actual problem.
HB-182, an ultrasound bill unleashed on an unsuspecting public by Rep. Chuck Gray (R-Casper), won introduction on a 19 – 10 vote. The bill would require a physician to provide information to women who have decided to get an abortion so they can make “an informed choice” over the next 24 hours. That’s an anti-abortion code phrase that means the clinic hopes their propaganda will change women’s minds. The doctor would be required to give a woman the “option” to have an ultrasound and hear the fetus’ heartbeart, if it’s audible.
The two bills still have to make it through a second reading—which almost all do that make it this far—before a third and final reading. The House already approved HB-116 by a 48 – 11 vote and HB-182 passed 47 – 12, but different amendments in the chambers would make it necessary for a joint conference committee to reach consensus and concur on a final version before it goes to Gov. Matt Mead. The governor has 10 days to either sign a bill, veto it, or let it become law without his signature.
Given the large winning margins in both chambers, pro-choice individuals and groups could have a difficult time defeating either bill. But at least one improvement was made in committee of the whole debate.
Sen. Liisa Anselmi-Dalton (D-Rock Springs) successfully offered an amendment to what she said was “an unenforceable mandate.” The change removes the requirement that a physician must obtain a signed statement from a patient that says she was provided the information she had to receive under the bill.
Michael Von Flatern (R-Gillette) supported the amendment. Without it, he said, “We’re creating work for a doctor that can’t be verified—and stepping in the way of a doctor’s procedure like we’re smarter than he is.” (which, of course, the entire bill does, but…)
“I really do understand people who are pro-life and their great frustrations,” said Sen. Bruce Burns (R-Sheridan). But, he added, the bill does not resolve anything other than for the government to start interfering in the doctor-patient relationship. “We’re suddenly telling a doctor what he has to say to his patient,” he said.
“In my little small government thinking this is a horrifying turn of events,” Burns said. “People hate abortion and try to do everything they can to postpone or put it off, and that’s exactly what this [bill] is. But, A) I think it’s a futile gesture; and B) I think it’s a bad precedent to set.”
Sen. Larry Hicks (R-Baggs) said the issue has a deep, personal meaning to him, and he talked about his religious beliefs, which he apparently thinks everyone shares. The Senator, known for his sanctimonious bloviating, declared that the United States “is a nation established under the laws of God. That’s what it states in our declaration and what it says in our constitution.”
He quoted Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Samuel Adams. “It really becomes an issue of ‘So goes the state, so goes the nation,’“ Hicks said. “I understand everyone has their own personal convictions, but I worry for where this country is going, especially if we don’t value the life that our founders valued in this country.”
Immediately after Hicks’ sermon, the Senate blessed the ultrasound bill.