Two measures to regulate a woman’s reproductive rights in Wyoming are quickly moving through the House.
Meanwhile, a Senate committee is set to vote Friday on a “personhood” bill that would give a fertilized egg, zygote, embryo, or clump of fetal tissue the same constitutional rights as a human being.
House Bill 140 would mandate a 48-hour waiting period after a physician notifies a pregnant woman she may have an ultrasound before an abortion can be performed.
The bill passed its initial reading in the House Wednesday, when 33 of the 60 members stood in support. Its third and final reading is scheduled Friday, and if HB 140 passes it will move to the Senate.
House Bill 103 would require the Board of Medicine to investigate any allegations that a physician has performed abortions in Wyoming without reporting them to the state. The bill was approved 5-4 by the House Labor, Health and Social Services Committee and now moves to the full House.
Senate File 128 is titled the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act.” It declares that life begins at conception and, while it exempts medical providers who perform abortions and women who receive them, the bill creates criminal penalties for accidentally or intentionally injuring or killing an “unborn child.” The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote on SF-128 Friday.
A waiting game
The sponsor of the waiting period bill, Rep. Richard Tass (R-Sheridan), told the House a neighbor confided that having an abortion was her biggest regret.
“It is something she’ll have to live with the rest of her life,” he said. “If she had been required to wait two more days, maybe she would have made a different decision.”
Rep. Sarah Burlingame (D-Cheyenne) said that, “pro-life” or “pro-choice” arguments aside, the bill is sloppily written, and it conflicts with current statute. For instance, current law classifies some miscarriages as “medical abortions,” for which there can be no waiting periods, but which would be affected by the proposal.
“Sometimes a medical abortion doesn’t always mean what we think it means,” Burlingame said. “Miscarriages happen, and sometimes [a medical abortion] just means that some placenta tissue was left after a live birth.”
In case anyone thinks measures like HB 140 aren’t brought for religious reasons, Rep. Roy Edwards (R-Gillette) recounted that 20 years ago he talked to a woman who was racked by guilt about having an abortion as a teen “until she accepted Jesus as her savior.”
“She didn’t intend to [have an abortion], she was forced into it by her parents because it was a convenience,” Edwards said. “This bill gives the mother the chance to make that decision that will be the final one if she decides to have an abortion, and it will be a lifetime to endure what she has done and what she has caused.”
She was racked by guilt “until she accepted Jesus as her savior.”
Rep. Sue Wilson (R-Cheyenne) compared the discussion on HB-140 with another bill current bill that would repeal the death penalty in Wyoming. She noted both issues fostered emotional debates.
However, unlike a convicted murderer sentenced to death, Wilson said, “A baby is an innocent. The only ‘crime’ it’s committed is that in nine months it’s going to be born.”
Rep. Tim Hallinan (R-Gillette), a retired physician, said he thinks a 48-hour waiting period is justifiable for an abortion. He said when a male patient sought a vasectomy he would discuss the procedure with the man and his wife and wait a week to allow them to consider the options before he performed it.
The year of the attack on women
HB-103, sponsored by Rep. Scott Clem’s (R-Gillette), would have originally fined physicians up to $1,000 for not reporting performing abortions to the state within a month. If convicted of intentionally filing false information, Clem’s bill would have sent the physician to prison for up to a year and/or imposed a $1,000 fine.
“Why are we in Wyoming so preoccupied with this private matter between a woman and her physician?”
After Clem agreed to take the fines and prison term out of the legislation, it narrowly advanced. House Labor Committee Chairman Rep. Sue Wilson (R-Cheyenne) cast the deciding 5 – 4 vote this morning.
Clem said the bill is necessary to give the Board of Medicine the power to enforce existing abortion requirements. The board can fine any physician up to $25,000 for professional misconduct.
But several people opposed the bill. Cheyenne realtor Wendy Volk noted that 2019 is supposed to be “a celebration” of the 150th anniversary of Women’s suffrage, but “this is becoming the year of ‘the attack on women’ in terms of the attack on women’s health, women’s health procedures, and women’s rights.”
“Why are we in Wyoming so preoccupied with this private matter between a woman and her physician?” Volk asked. “Why aren’t we asking for the data, Rep. Clem, [of] who are the men who impregnated these women? Why aren’t we asking for their ethnicity and age? … Why aren’t we getting to the cause, not who had to deal with an unanticipated or unwanted pregnancy?”
Proving intent (to harm a zygote)
Meanwhile, SF-128 sponsor Sen. Lynn Hutchings (R-Cheyenne) maintained at a hearing Wednesday that her bill “in no way interferes with a woman’s right to have an abortion” and is designed only to enhance penalties for crimes against “unborn children.”
But Holly Thompson of Casper said when a state puts fetal personhood into statutes it creates “a tried and true playbook for the anti-choice movement to establish fetal rights to reverse Roe v. Wade … and re-criminalize abortion in this country.”
“It’s a tried and true playbook for the anti-choice movement to establish fetal rights.”
Sharon Breitweiser, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Wyoming, said the bill “is unenforceable” because of the difficulty of proving intent to harm.
“Whether you are completely ambivalent or have a very strong opinion on one side of the ‘pro-life’ vs. ‘pro-choice’ argument,” she said, “the workability of the statutory codification of a fertilized egg as an unborn child from the moment of conception is very troubling to me, and I think it would have some unintended consequences.”